As we look ahead to the TotalEnergies U-17 Africa Cup of Nations | COSAFA Qualifier that will be staged at the Region 5 Games Lilongwe 2022 from December 2-11, it is worth remembering the tremendous platform created by the competition in the past.
The COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship has seen a number of the region’s top stars pass through the competition over the years, providing the introduction to international football at an early age.
Some have gone on to have stellar careers, while others have faded into obscurity, unable to turn their talent as a teen into a professional career.
Here are 10 players who have gone on to shine after appearing in the tournament, including some more recent stars.
Buckley appeared in the inaugural 1994 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship and would go on to win 73 caps for Bafana Bafana in a superb career that included an appearance at the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
He also played extensively in the German Bundesliga, including for Borussia Dortmund, as well as in Cyprus and back home at Maritzburg United.
Gutu was seen as a young prodigy and went on to play in Sweden, for a number of years, though he was without a club for some while after leaving Varnamo in 2018.
He later re-joined Dynamos in his homeland, where the 29-year-old hoped to reignite his career, but left after a couple of seasons.
He played at the 2007 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship and was a star for Zimbabwe in the tournament.
Another of South Africa’s flamboyant playmakers, Lekoelea went by the name of Steve Motsiri when he turned out for the country in the 1994 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship.
He would spend a decade with top local club Orlando Pirates, where he was revered for his midfield skill, having begun his career with Moroka Swallows.
He was 15 years, 257 days old when he debuted for Swallows, and became the league’s youngest scorer, aged 16 years, 7 days. Both records have since been beaten.
Lungu was a star of the Zambia junior set-up and would go on to have an influential senior international career that included lifting the Africa Cup of Nations title in 2012.
That came five years after he was a top pwerformer for Zambia at the 2007 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship, and he would also spend eight successful seasons with Ural Yekaterinburg in Russia.
He also later joined Alanyaspor in Turkey and has most recently with Nkana FC, Zanaco and Nkwazi in the MTN Super League.
Ng’ambi was until recently still going strong after finishing as top-scorer in the 2001 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship.
He left Black Leopards in the South African Premier Soccer League at the end of the 2019/20 season, but also enjoyed a successful spell with Platinum Stars, where he won the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout.
He has had an excellent career as a goal-scoring midfielder and it is a surprise to many that he was not snapped up by bigger teams over the years.
One of the hottest strikers in Europe a few years ago, Daka scored goals for fun with Red Bull Salzburg in both the Austrian league and the UEFA Champions League, before making the move to English side Leicester City, where he has become a fixture in the side.
He has continued his red-hot form and has the potential to become a leading marksman in the Premier League. If he does so, he will remember fondly his goals at the 2015 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship, which was played as part of the Region 5 Games in Bulawayo.
The Malawian winger is the son of former international Chikondi Banda and netted five goals in the 2016 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship as he helped the junior Flames to the bronze medal.
He played for top local side Big Bullets, helping them to the league title in 2019, before a loan spell in Moldova with Sheriff Tiraspol.
His switch to leading Tanzanian side Simba SC had allowed him to play on the continental stage, and he is already a fixture in the senior national side.
The Zambia star scored five goals in the 2017 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship and has continued his steady rise since.
He is currently playing in the Italian Serie A with Lecce, having previously turned out in the Israeli league for Maccabi Petah Tikva and Arsenal Tula in Russia.
Still only 21, he has so much potential and can now showcase his talent in one of Europe’s big leagues.
A year later came the arrival of Angolan Zito Luvumbo, who has taken the region by storm and signalled his status as one of the best young players to come out of Southern Africa in a while.
He was the star of the 2018 tournament as Angola romped to the title and has since signed with Italian Serie B side Cagliari, though last season he was on loan at Como.
The 20-year-old is set to take the Italian scene by storm and help Cagliari to win promotion after their relegation in the previous campaign.
Banda has yet to really begin his professional career but is already a legend of the COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship having finished as top scorer in both the 2020 and 2021 editions.
What’s more he will be back to score more goals in 2022 and add to his tally of 10 as he is still only 16!
He has had trials at Spanish giants Barcelona and is currently with Zambian MTN Super League champions Red Arrows. Banda has a huge future in the game.