Junior Flames’ hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals of the Under-20 Cosafa Championship were blown away yesterday following a 1-2 loss to Namibia in a Group B match in South Africa.
Following the loss, the Under-20 Malawi national football team has dropped to third place and are tied on three points with second-placed Namibia while champions Zambia lead the group with six points, having won both their games. They beat table anchors Comoros Islands 2-0 earlier on.
Comoros have no point ahead of their last fixture against Namibia tomorrow.
As has become the norm with all the other Malawi national sides, the Junior Flames will turn to equations and hope against all odds that they can stun Zambia in their last match tomorrow.
It does not end there. Malawi will also be counting on Comoros to see off the Namibians to have a realistic chance of sneaking into the semis—a tall order.
Junior Flames coach Patrick Mabedi said his charges did not play according to their game plan.
“Namibia wanted it more than us. We did not play according to our game plan as we played long balls, which is not our strength . We should have played more on the ground,” he said.
Mabedi said they will go flat out against Zambia as “we have nothing to lose. We just need to go and compete and do our best”.
Captain Hadji Wali admitted they did not perform well. He said they will try their best not to disappoint in their next outing.
In yesterday’s encounter at Wolfson Stadium monitored on Cosafa Television, the Junior Flames raised false hopes by taking an early lead through Lanjesi Nkhoma in the ninth minute who shrugged off a number of challenges before firing low to put Malawi ahead.
But as the Junior Flames were floating on air, their joy was short-lived as Namibia equalised four minutes later.
Juninho Jantze provided a controlled volley at the back post to level the scores before Giovani Kaninab grabbed the winner just before half-time.
It was as good as over.
In the second half, Malawi came with renewed vigour, trying to force their opponents into the back foot with numerous attacks, but they failed to convert chances into goals.
Malawi tried to make tactical changes to enhance their attacking prowess, pulling out Patrick Mwaungulu for Aubrey Maloya and Stanley Billiati for Andrew Sikola, but that had little impact on the game as the Namibians held on to their nerves.
Malawi went into this encounter with a spring in their step following a hope-giving 1-0 triumph over Comoros in their opener but their lack of composure in front of goal and some needless errors at the back have complicated their qualification chances.
Only the top team in each pool as well as best-placed runner-up advance to the semifinals, while the two finalists at this year’s competition will win a place at the 2021 Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations.
According to cosafa.com, to make the best runner-up place calculation fair, the results against the bottom teams in Groups A and B will be discarded.
Both Groups A and C will be decided today when the final matches are played.
Junior Flames have not made it past the group stages for the past nine years as they last qualified for the semis in 2011 in which they lost 4-2 to Angola before going down 1-0 to hosts Botswana in a third-place play-off.