The Cosafa Cup is into its 19th year, proving its longevity and its pre-eminent position among regional tournaments in world football.
Zambia and Zimbabwe each have four titles to their name, with Angola and South Africa claiming three. They are the only countries to have claimed the title so far, while Angola’s success in 2004 meant they got to keep the first trophy in perpetuity.
A total of 14 teams compete in this year’s competition, including guest nations Ghana and Tanzania, which will have the third different format for the competition since the original Cosafa Cup that was inaugurated in 1997.
Zambia will be the defending champions after they defeated Zimbabwe 2-0 on home soil in the 2013 final, the last time the competition was played.
That result was a reverse of the 2009 final when it was Zimbabwe who triumphed in front of their home fans with a 3-1 success over the Zambians in Harare.
South Africa had been back-to-back winners before that. In 2008 they beat Mozambique 2-1 in the final, while the year before that they edged out Zambia 4-3 on penalties after a goalless draw in the decider.
And so Zambia narrowly missed out on defending the title they won in 2006 when they beat Angola 2-0 in the final, one of four runner-up places for Chipolopolo in all.
In 2005, Zimbabwe edged out Angola and Zambia on successive days to emerge as winners in the tournament hosted in Mmabatho, South Africa.
Angola won their third title in dramatic style in 2004, going to the backyard of fierce foe Zambia and winning in a penalty shootout to claim the trophy.
The final was played over just one match in Lusaka and Angola triumphed over their hosts 5-4 on penalties after a goalless draw.
‘Palancas Negras’ had previously won the Cosafa Caste Cup in 1999 and 2001, on both occasions also claiming the trophy away from home.
In 1999, Angola needed extra time in the second leg in Windhoek to overcome the Namibians, who were making their second final appearance in three years.
Zimbabwe and Angola played out a gritty final in 2001, with the two legs scoreless until ‘Palancas Negras’ striker Flavio netted just three minutes from the end of the second match in Harare.
Zambia hold the distinction of having won the first Cosafa Castle Cup and took it again in 1998 when the format was still decided on a round-robin basis.
Zimbabwe also found early success in the tournament, first in 2000 in a one-sided decider against Lesotho when they won by a record 6-0 on aggregate.
The Warriors easily disposed of Malawi in the 2003 final to grab the trophy for the second time.
Zimbabwe were also beaten finalists in 1998 against Zambia when Rotson Kilambe got a late winner, and to the Angolans at home in 2001.
In 2002 South Africa, who have emerged as the powerhouse of the region, finally lived up to their top-seeded billing and took the cup.
South Africa beat Malawi 4-1 on aggregate over two legs in the decider just a few months after playing in the World Cup finals – along with Angola the only Cosafa member that has been able to achieve this feat.