NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 21, Zambian supporters celebrating after scoring a goal during the 2013 Orange African Cup of Nations match between Zambia and Ethiopia from Mbombela Stadium on January 21, 2012 in Nelspruit, South Africa Photo by Manus van Dyk / Gallo Images

Johannesburg – Zambia’s Africa Cup of Nations triumph last year gave southern Africa reason to believe it is finally catching up to their west and north African counterparts, but below-par performances at this year’s competition have taken the region backwards.

Only two southern Africa countries qualified for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, along with Bafana Bafana, who were hosts. Angola and defending champions Zambia were knocked out in the first round and the hosts were booted out in the last eight on penalties by Mali.

Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) president Suketu Patel is well aware of the fact that southern African countries are lagging behind their west and north African counterparts, but states that there is no need to panic.

Patel would rather have southern African countries developing players properly and planning for sustainable success.

“Every (southern African) team tried their best, but there is still a wide gap between us and other regions.

“But don’t forget as a zone we are competing with zones where football has been established for hundreds of years. Al Ahly, for example in Egypt, have just celebrated 100 years of existence.

“We need to catch up,” said Patel, who was in Johannesburg on Saturday for the opening of the Cosafa house in Parkhurst.

“It’s about development and about a long-term view. And don’t forget the responsibility to develop players is that of the federation.

“I’d rather take 2000 or 5000 kids off the streets and develop grassroots football than spend all my money on winning Afcon.

“Every national association have their own objectives and sometimes they need to balance that with immediate glory of winning the Cup of Nations or doing something long-term, which in 10 or 15 years, will bring success.

“And a good example of that is Botswana. But to me these comparisons mean nothing.

“We are all Africans and we should be proud of a team like Burkina Faso.”

As part of a plan to try and get the southern African region to fare much better at the big stage, the Cup of Nations, the Cosafa senior challenge will return in July for the first time in two years.

“We signed the media rights deal (on Friday) and we signed a sponsorship deal with Castle.

“The tournament will take place in Zambia in July. There will be two stages.

“We will have group stages, with the weaker teams. And the teams that qualify will join the top six-ranked teams for the knockout phase.

“We have an agreement to successfully host this year, and if it goes well, there is an option to extend the deal.”

Patel says Cosafa are still looking for a sponsor for the Cosafa Under-20 Challenge after Metropolitan pulled out.

“We have talked to a number of people, but I think you are aware that in South Africa the sponsorship market is shrinking.

“They would rather sponsor high profile competitions, but we will keep fighting.

“The mission of Cosafa is to develop players through development tournaments,” he said. – Star Africa