It was fashion show again as Zambia Under-23 forward Fashion Sakala sealed Malawi’s fate in the joint Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Under-23 Afcon qualifier with a 39th minute strike at National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka yesterday.
In a repeat of the first leg on Wednesday, the Belgium-based KV Oostende forward again struck the lone goal that gave the Junior Chipolopolo a spring in their step going into the second leg.
He provided the final flourish with a low shot past advancing Malawi ‘keeper Brightone Munthali’s legs for the lone goal.
Beating Zambia away was going to be tough, but Malawi made it even easier for the hosts after failing to rectify the shortfalls noted from the first leg.
Yesterday, the entire technical panel led by head coach Meke Mwase seemed clueless on how to stop the Zambians.
At the end of the day, it was only Munthali who stood firm to stop the visitors from embarrassment with his stellar performance that kept the scoreline at a respectable 1-0.
After losing 1-0 at Kamuzu Stadium, Malawi needed to beat the hosts at least 2-0 to make it to the next round.
But a hostile environment met Junior Flames with 45 000 tickets for the game sold out.
Mwase made one change to the squad that lost 0-1 in the first leg. He rested Peter Banda who had a knock and started Gregory Nachipo, who joined Mike Mkwate and Hassan Kajoke to complete the three-pronged attack.
The hosts, who also maintained the team that played in the first leg, clearly wanted an early goal and pressed hard up front through their attack machinery led by Sakala.
But Malawi soaked the pressure well. The only mistake that the junior Flames did was to fail to attack as a unit, the same shortfall noticed from the first leg.
The midfield was disjointed again. Levison Maganizo failed to supply balls upfront. Isaac Kaliyati and Precious Sambani were completely closed out while Nachipo, who played wide, did not tick.
This left Mkwate as the only available link with Kajoke. He did this excellently, but he could not do it all by himself.
No wonder Malawi only created half chances. The best of these was when Mkwate intercepted a pass deep in the box and chipped it to Kajoke, but the Nyasa Big Bullets striker shot wide.
Mwase pulled out Nachipo and introduced Chikaiko Batson hoping to improve the midfield.
Banda was also introduced to replace misifiring Sambani in the
80th minute and his presence was immediately felt.
His low hard shot called Zambia goalkeeper to duty for the first time in the second half to the relief of the home fans.
Mwase then threw in Francis Mkonda replacing Maganizo. But still, the Zambians gave Malawi no chance.
In a post match interviews, Mwase wore a brave face, saying his charges needed to be applauded for dying fighting.
“I think they did their best,” he said.
His counterpart Beston Chambeshi lured missed opportunities but said what was important was that they had made it to the last qualifying round.