The COSAFA Cup has seen the birth of many careers down the years, with players using the regional showpiece competition to launch themselves on the path to stardom.
Here are 11 players who have lit up the showpiece tournament with their skill and written their names in history over the last 24 years, as we await the new generation of heroes in Nelson Mandela Bay from July 6-18.
FABRICE AKWA (ANGOLA)
Akwa was a stalwart of the Angolan side that competed in the early years of the COSAFA Cup, featuring in seven tournaments between 1998 and 2006.
He lifted the trophy twice, in 2001 and 2004, and remains the leading goal-scorer for Palancas Negras in the competition with five.
Akwa was a star striker for Angola at the turn of the century, who turned out for Portuguese giants Benfica, among other overseas clubs. He scored a hat-trick against Mauritius in 2006 to go with goals in 2000 and 2001
He also scored the winning goals in the qualifiers that sent Angola to their first ever World Cup appearance in Germany 2006, and later played in Qatar before finishing his career with Petro Atlético at home.
He scored 38 goals in 78 international appearances for his country.
KERSLEY APPOU (MAURITIUS)
Appou was a stalwart of the early years of the COSAFA Cup with Mauritius, featuring in seven tournaments between 2000 and 2007, when he netted four goals.
No other player has scored more for the island nation in the competition and he was a feared forward in his day.
His international career actually stretched for 15 years as he only retired in 2014, but which time he had become the oldest African player to feature at the highest level when he turned out against Mauritania in an African Nations Cup qualifier at the age of 43 years and 354 days, beating the previous mark set by Cameroon great Roger Milla at the 1994 World Cup.
BRIAN BALOYI (SOUTH AFRICA)
Baloyi is a former goalkeeper who was a huge star with South African giants Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns, as well as the national team.
He won 10 trophies in a glittering club career, but also had 12 years with the South African national side, which included appearances in the COSAFA Cup in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2005, when he was captain.
Nicknamed ‘Spiderman’, he was one of the finest keepers of his generation and also won the African Cup Winners’ Cup with Chiefs in 2001. He played for AmaKhosi between 1993 and 2004, before leaving to join rivals Sundowns, where he played until 2010.
“The COSAFA Cup made a huge impact on me in terms of the international exposure I got, and also the chance to captain my country in the competition,” Baloyi says.
SIZA DLAMINI (ESWATINI)
Dlamini is a legend in eSwatini and played in a whopping nine COSAFA Cup tournaments between 1997 and 2007, missing out only in 2005 and 2006.
He netted the first goal in a famous 2-0 victory over Zimbabwe in 2002, and later that year also netted against South Africa, though eSwatini lost that game 4-1.
Dlamini also found the back of the net in a 2-0 win over Madagascar the following year.
He made his name at Mbabane Swallows in eSwatini, and played in South Africa for a number of clubs, most notably Lamontville Golden Arrows and Jomo Cosmos.
ERNEST MTAWALI (MALAWI)
Ernest Mtawali was a stalwart of the early years of the Cosafa Cup and a creative genius for The Flames in many five victories.
A player with enormous talent, he had a successful career in South Africa, Argentina and France, and spent 17 years with the Malawi national team. Such was his ability that he joined Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys on the recommendation if Diego Maradona!
Mtawali has also served on the technical team of the Malawi national side in the recent past.
CONGO HINDJOU (NAMIBIA)
Johannes ‘Congo’ Hindjou is a hugely respected former Namibia international who played in all of the first six COSAFA Cup tournaments between 1997 and 2003.
The midfielder netted twice in Namibia’s first ever appearance in the competition, a 2-1 win over Zimbabwe in 1997, and bagged another that year in a 4-1 success against Malawi.
He was a stalwart of the national side over a number of years and remains one of Namibia’s finest ever international players.
ROTSON KILAMBE (ZAMBIA)
Kilambe played for Zambia at the 1998 and 2000 African Nations Cup finals and would also have a trophy-laden club career at home, in South Africa and China.
He won Man of the Match in his debut in the COSAFA Cup in a 1-0 win over Malawi in 1998, and later grabbed the goal that took Chipolopolo to the trophy win that year against Zimbabwe.
He also bagged a brace and another Man of the Match prize in 2002 in victory over Mozambique.
Kilambe turned out for South African giants Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns, as well as Bloemfontein Celtic, with who he won the top eight competition.
He was also a Zambia league winner with Zanaco in 2002, the year in which he finished as the league’s top-scorer.
PETER NDLOVU (ZIMBABWE)
Ndlovu is the greatest goal-scorer for Zimbabwe in the history of the COSAFA Cup, having netted seven goals during his time in the competition.
Ndlovu always made himself available for the COSAFA Cup despite playing in the big leagues in England and his goals return was impressive, stretching over some seven seasons. His hat-trick in 2004 against eSwatini were the final goals he scored in the regional championship.
He started his career with hometown club Highlanders in Bulawayo, before moving to England with Coventry City. He also played for Birmingham City, Sheffield United and Huddersfield, before returning to Africa to play for Mamelodi Sundowns, where he is currently acting as team manager.
LEHLOHONOLO SEEMA (LESOTHO)
Seema is a former stalwart of the Lesotho national side, who is the current caretaker coach at South African club Bloemfontein Celtic, where he also spent many years as a player.
The defender played in eight COSAFA Cup tournaments between 1998 and 2006, and had a decade in all with the national side.
He played for Chelsea FC, Matlama FC and Bantu FC in Lesotho before winning a move to Celtic in 1998 on the back of his COSAFA Cup showing, and he spent six seasons in the Free State.
He later joined Soweto giants Orlando Pirates, where he played for another five years that included a loan spell with Mpumalanga Black Aces.
“The COSAFA Cup was a great launchpad for my career as it gave me international exposure I never thought was possible,” Seema says.
DIPSY SELOLWANE (BOTSWANA)
Selolwane is a legend in Botswana having spent 13 years as a crucial cog in The Zebras midfield.
Having come through the ranks at hometown club Gaborone United, Selolwane moved to Denmark to play for Vejle BK, and then the United States where he represented Chicago Fire and Real Salt Lake in Major League Soccer.
He moved to South Africa in 2005 and was a hit for Santos, Jomo Cosmos, Ajax Cape Town, SuperSport United and the University of Pretoria.
Selolwane featured in six COSAFA Cup tournaments, the first in 1999 and the last in 2006. His debut in the competition saw him score in a 2-1 loss to South Africa.
Manuel José Luís Bucuane, universally known as Tico-Tico, is a former Mozambique international and one of the greatest strikers his country has ever produced.
Tico-Tico played in a record nine COSAFA Cup tournaments over an 11-year period that makes him one of the competition’s greats, even if he could never quite steer Mozambique to the coveted title.
He made 22 COSAFA Cup appearances in all, netting eight goals in the process, and became one of the most feared strikers in the competition.
He played for Estrela da Amadora in Portugal before joining South African side Jomo Cosmos for the first of three spells in 1997.
He also played for Tampa Bay Mutiny in the USA, as well as South African PSL clubs SuperSport United, Orlando Pirates and Maritzburg United.