HAD it not been for Covid-19, schoolchildren from across the country would on Friday and Saturday be converging on Masvingo province for the country’s most prestigious schools’ soccer tournament, Copa Coca-Cola.
The 32nd edition of the contest would have seen Under-15 girls and boys seek to undo each other in a competition where Bulawayo’s Mpopoma High and Harare’s Prince Edward High are the defending champions.
Mpopoma made history when they became the first ever school from Bulawayo to win the girls’ title at the Copa Coca-Cola national finals when they conquered 2018 winners Nyamauru 5-4 on penalties at Rimuka Stadium in Kadoma.
Prince Edward School of Harare were also crowned Copa Coca-Cola boys’ champions for the first time when they defeated 2017 winners Rusununguko 1-0. This was despite PE finishing the match with 10 players on the park.
Since the girls’ sponsorship was introduced in 2011, no Bulawayo school had won the national trophy. The winners before had come from Harare, Masvingo and Manicaland.
This year’s finals were set to take place either at Mucheke Stadium or Gibbo Stadium to provide an ideal atmosphere for the country’s budding footballers to showcase their talent.
Mzilikazi High, an academic institution that has produced nimble-footed players that include Joel Ngodzo his elder brother Johannes Ngodzo, Vusa Nyoni, Joseph Ngwenya and Castro Ndebele among others, is one of the most successful schools in the Copa Coca-Cola tournament that came into being in 1989.
It was in Bulawayo, at Gifford High School to be precise, where the first Copa Coca-Cola competition was held way back in August 1989. Mzilikazi defeated Manunure 3-0 in the final, with goals for the Bulawayo school coming from the legendary Peter Ndlovu, Gift Banda and the late Benjamin Nkonjera.
The late Vice-President, Joshua Nkomo, then Senior Minister in the President’s Office presented the prizes for the inaugural Copa Coca-Cola.
Mzilikazi went on to win Copa Coca-Cola again in 1993, 1999 and 2001 which makes them, together with Hippo Valley and Churchill the most successful schools in the competition. Hippo Valley and Churchill have also been champions of Copa Coca-Cola four times.
With schools closed and sporting activities prohibited in the country, Nash president Arthur Maphosa is still hopeful that things will get back to normal, thereby paving way for Copa Coca-Cola.
“We are hoping that all will return to normal and we will be able to host Copa Coca-Cola, both launch and tournament in Masvingo. However, the health of our learners comes first,’’ Maphosa said.
A video call conference did take place between Nash and the sponsors, where the sponsors expressed their willingness to continue funding the tournament.
“We will stand guided by the Government. We had a video meeting on 27 March with our sponsors. They remain committed to the sponsorship and we pray the world triumphs over Covid-19 and our games roll back into life,’’ said Maphosa.
Seeing that the age group that takes part in Copa Coca-Cola is the Under-15 and those are not writing any national examinations, the tournament can take place during the third term.
“Under-15s are not exam classes, we can still squeeze it in as long as our sponsors remain as committed as they have been since 1989. Unless they turn funding to Covid-19, saving lives, otherwise I believe in a half full bottle, I don’t see it half empty, I am an optimist,’’ he said.