By Ellina Mhlanga
In a country without vibrant junior football development structures, the Copa Coca-Cola tournament has proven priceless to thousands of budding footballers within the school system as they have something to look forward to every year.
The annual competition is the largest tournament on the schools calendar and has over the years spread its wings to also include the girl’s competition.
Eight of the country’s 10 provinces have had their schools winning the tournament at some point.
Masvingo have the bragging rights after having won a combined 13 titles for both the boys and girls competition.
The girls’ competition was launched in 2011.
They are followed by Harare with 11 titles and Bulawayo are the third best province with four titles won by Mzilikazi.
Masvingo and Harare are the only two provinces that have had their girls representatives, Vainona and Chidyamakono, winning the girls competition in its seven years of existence.
Masvingo province head in charge of football, Tranos Mbwirire, said it’s because of the schools’ dedication and hard work that they have managed to lift the trophy more than any other province.
“As a province we are so happy that we have managed to win the tournament more than any other province in Zimbabwe, especially when it comes to the girls section, Chidyamakono has made us very proud,” he said.
“I believe that we give serious preparation for the tournament as a province and sheer hard work has made to help us win the tournament several times.”
Some of the players that have emerged from the province include former Dynamos goalkeeper Artwell Mukandi, a former Pamushana High student.
He has since retired from football.
Hippo Valley, Dewure and Mashoko have also been crowned champions.
“Generally, everyone wants to win, the tournament has opened some doors to the young footballers. They have had opportunities to travel outside the country and get exposure,” said Mbwirire.
Harare province head in charge of football, Ropafadzo Matemavi, said there has been a huge improvement of football standards throughout the country.
“Harare is doing well as a province. But for the past two to three years we have not been able to win the trophy. But all the same we are happy with our performances.
“It’s different now from long back when you would say soccer is being played in urban areas… so the fact that we have not been winning it’s not that we are doing badly.
” It’s that there has been an improvement from the underdogs.
“The standard of football has improved nationally, it’s no longer the urban areas only, which is a good development,” said Matemavi.
Churchill are four-time champions and Lord Malvern won the tournament twice.
Vainona, in the girls section, Cranborne High School, Mt Pleasant and Dzivarasekwa 2 High are also previous winners.
Mashonaland East have won the title three times through Chemhanza, who won twice, and Rusununguko.
Chipadze and Rujeko have won the title for Mashonaland Central while Matebeleland South’s Mzingwane also have their name on the winners’ list.
Midlands and Manicaland have also produced champions through Manunure and Mutare Boys High.
“The coming in of the sponsorship has improved the standard of the game because there is something to play for and it motivates almost everyone.
“Everyone is playing from zonals.
“We are also saying Coca-Cola is helping in the development of sport in the country because we catch them young, that’s why now we talk of legends who came through this tournament,” said Matemavi.
Matabeleland North and Mashonaland West are the only provinces that have not won the tournament either in the boys or girls section so far.