It is not every day that a young footballer from as far as Mzingwane in Matabeleland South or Mwenezi in Masvingo gets to mingle with yesteryear football heroes they grew up hearing about.
The recently concluded 2011 Copa Coca-CoIa Under-16 national finals in Marondera however provided that opportunity with Warriors legends Stanford Mtizwa, Peter Ndlovu and current Warriors head coach Norman Mapeza, gracing the event.
It was a refreshing sight watching the trio taking time to pose for photographs and signing autographs with the enthused youngsters, who will no doubt cherish the moment for a long time to come.
Former Warrioars skipper Ndlovu — the highest capped player with 100 caps and all-time leading scorer for the national team with 38 goals — is also a product of this youth football tournament.
Besides Ndlovu, other players who were discovered through this tournament include Alois Bunjira, Stewart Murisa, Ovidy Karuru and Knowledge Musona, among others.
Ndlovu, who lifted the inaugural tournament in 1989 with Mzilikazi High School, hailed continued growth of the tournament and encouraged local football stakeholders to take an active part.
“The organisation of the tournament has been improving with each year and this is good because it shows that we appreciate football development must begin from the grassroots.
“It is through this support from the sponsors, Delta Beverages, the hosting schools and the general public that even the standard of play has been improving. The youngsters and all the teams taking part are eager to show what they are made of.
“I feel honoured that the organisers have decided to make us a part of this tournament. I know people always say we are not producing enough players, but with tournaments like these more good players will continue coming up the ranks,” Ndlovu said.
Manunure High School of Midlands Province lifted the 2011 Copa Coca-Cola Under-16 national title after beating Mwenezi High School of Masvingo Province 3-1 in the final.
A list of the top 20 players was named in the Copa Dream Team which will not only form the core of the national Under-17 team but is also set represent the country in the International Football Camp.
Top talent from last year’s tournament are set to represent the country at the International Football Camp in London at Chelsea Football Club, and participants have the opportunity of watching a live English football Premiership match.
Meanwhile, the Coca-Cola system will also sponsor the inaugural National Association of School Heads Under-20 girls’ tournament to be held at Gifford High School in Bulawayo next month.
The sponsorship comes at a time when the Mighty Warriors have won their maiden Cosafa Women’s Championships title and having sealed qualification for the All-Africa Games in Mozambique.