COPA CUP uncovered talent

COPA CUP uncovered talent
BackpagePix

BackpagePix

Many of today’s Premier Soccer League stars can look back at the COPA Cup tournament as a defining moment in their young careers when they knew they had what it takes to become a professional players.
From Orlando Pirates stars Happy Jele and Andile Jali, now living his dream of playing in Europe with KV Oostende, to Bafana Bafana winger Mandla Masango, who was a goal-scoring hero again in his last national team match against Mauritius.

All of these players, and many more, were discovered as rough diamonds during the COPA Cup schools football tournament and put on the path to stardom and representing their country on the international stage.

Their footballing ambitions were shaped by the COPA Cup back then known as Coca-Cola Football Stars, where for many it was their first time receiving expert coaching and advice from legends such as former national team coach Clive Barker.
Masango saw his dream of scoring for Bafana Bafana come true when he netted against Namibia at the COSAFA Cup Zambia 2013 tournament. He has gone on to score three more times, including one of the Goals of the Tournament at the 2015 African Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea when he volleyed home against Ghana.

Born in Kwaggafontein in Mpumalanga, Masanga honed his skills during his school days, including at the COPA Cup, and would go on to join the Kaizer Chiefs and claim two league winners’ medals.

“It was great for us to compete against players not just from our neighbouring schools, but the province and then the rest of the country at the national finals too,” Masango says of his COPA Coca-Cola experience.

“A big test of my skills – I didn’t know much about technique then and we came up against some very good teams at the national level.” he added

Masango made his PSL debut in the 2007/08 season and has been capped at every international level for South Africa from Under-17 through to the senior national side.

For Andile Jali being afforded platform to show his prodigious talent, as a schoolboy at the COPA Coup tournament is a moment will cherish forever, as soon after that the University of Pretoria quickly snapped him.

He had just turned 19 by the time he helped National First Division AmaTuks into the final of the 2009 South African FA Cup, where they eventually lost to Moroka Swallows.  He was signed by Orlando Pirates the following season and made his debut for Bafana Bafana in January 2010 against Zimbabwe, still before his 20th birthday.

28-year-old Happy Jele cannot be left out – Jele played in the inaugural COPA Cupa event and has since gone on to be one of the leading stars of the domestic game.

He left amateur side Walter Stars for Soweto giants Orlando Pirates and made his PSL debut in the 2006/07 seasons and has become a mainstay for The Buccaneers through all their trophy success since.

Just like Masango, Jele and Jali, many are schoolboys with dreams, but would be able to use the COPA Cup to put themselves on the path to a successful and fulfilling career.

The 2015 COPA Cup is bound to uncover more gems for the local game, especially with the introduction of ambassador team, scouted from the pool of up-and-coming football heroes.

The next province to host its Provincial final is KwaZulu-Natal 22 August 2015.

Article:Madoda Ntuli

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