COPA Coca-Cola turns 30

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IT’S been three decades and the tournament continues to grow.
The prestigious schools’ soccer tournament, COPA Coca Cola, has consistently, for 30 years, featured on the sporting calendar.
And in that time, it has helped scout and nurture hundreds of stars who have played professional football locally, regionally and internationally.
The tournament has been on a positive trajectory since its inception in 1988.
It has gotten better every year and now includes girls’ soccer whose impact continues to be felt at the highest level of football. Shining examples of girls who have emerged from the COPA Coca-Cola competitions abound.
With a reach of more than 2 000 schools across the 52 districts of the country, the tournament has been an important soccer development tool in the country.
Several players who have shone at the tournaments have unlocked the door to professional football careers.
The list of players who were made by the tourney is endless.
Peter Ndlovu, one of Zimbabwe’s soccer legends who played in the English Premier League, horned his skills in the prestigious competition.
Ndlovu played for Mzilikazi High School, one of the most successful schools in the COPA Coca-Cola and has won in the tournament more than three times.
Together with his teammate and friend Benjamin Nkonjera and scored in the final match against Manunure High School. The duo was groomed in the tournament and went on to play for Highlanders.
At 16, Ndlovu broke into the senior team in 1990, a year after playing in the COPA Coca-Cola.
It was a team made up of prolific stars who include greats Rahman Gumbo, Mercedes Sibanda, Willard ‘Nduna’ Mashinkila-Khumalo, Madinda Ndlovu and Dumisani Ngulube.
Having been exposed to tough competition in the COPA Coca-Cola tournaments in which the creme de la crème of juniors showcased their talent, the young Ndlovu had no trouble fitting into the competitive Highlanders outfit.
In no time, Ndlovu became a household name and was soon drafted into the national team, the Dream Team which was mentored by the late German Reinhard Fabisch.
He became the vital cog of the team — never disappointing and delivering when it mattered most.
The COPA Coca-Cola has become one of the most important grassroots platforms to develop and expose talent in local football.
Several soccer lovers will forever remember the exploits of Nkonjera, especially in national colours.
Who will forget the Mzilikazi High student who played his heart out against the Egyptian Pharaohs in the 1990 World Cup qualifiers.
The Dream Team played the Pharoahs in Egypt before a re-match was arranged in Lyon, France, which ended in a goalless draw. In both affairs, Nkonjera dominated.
Grassroots football continues to play a pivotal role for the development of soccer in the country and tournaments provide a chance for scouts to tap raw talent.
The premiership has several players who came to the fore during the COPA Coca-Cola tournament.
Players like Leonard Fiyado, Norman Maroto, Ovidy Karuru and Artwell Mukandi, among others, were birthed by the tourney.
Others that include Tatenda Tumba, Tatenda Munditi, Bukhosi Ncube and Prince Dube are plying their trade in foreign leagues.
Namesakes Tatenda Tumba and Munditi played together at Chemhanza High School and won the 2013 title after beating Howard 3-1.
Goalkeeper Munditi went on to play First Division football for Mutare City before his move to premiership side Harare City. Munditi then made a move to Castle Lager Premier Soccer League log leaders Ngezi Platinum Stars where he is second choice goalkeeper. His namesake remained at Harare City and has a bright future in the game.
Dube joined Highlanders and the former Somvubu High School player was instrumental in the team before relocating to South Africa to join Supersport United.
He scored a goal against Dynamos in May 2016 to end the Harare giant’s decade-long dominance over Highlanders in all competitions. Bongani Mafu, former Highlanders coach is credited for discovering the pearl.
The 30th edition of the Under-15 boys tournament will be launched on May 15 at Rusununguko High School, the defending champions.
The finals are slated for July in Zvishavane.
Five-time winners, Chidyamakono, are the girls defending champions.
This year, Midlands Province host the games with the Under-16 girls being hosted by Mandava High School. The boys will be hosted at Zvishavane High School.
Zonal games are expected to commence on May 24 while the district games will be held on June 8 before the decisive provincials set for June 22.
Teams that would have qualified for the finals will have three weeks to fine-tune their performance for the crunch encounters.

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