The Malawi Under-20 national team faces Swaziland in the 2019 Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) preliminary round first leg qualifier at Bingu National Stadium (BNS) in Lilongwe this afternoon.
Most players in this team have showed glimpses of heroism when playing abroad. Who can forget their winning of bronze at the Under-17 Cosafa Youth Championship or their breathtaking performances in Zambia at the Cosafa Under-20 tournament where they narrowly missed the semi-final berth?
In Swaziland, the Junior Flames face a familiar enemy. The two sides last met in Zambia where Malawi won 3-2. At least from that clash, coach Meke Mwase has a clue that the Junior Sihlangu are not a punching bag.
Mwase himself has a point to prove. He is a new man in the position having taken over from Gerald Phiri.
In an interview with Weekend Nation, he hinted that he would not overhaul the whole playing system.
“Most of these players have been together from the Under-17 side. What I am doing is to sharpen their defending, coordination and attacking,” the former Flames defender said.
Malawi will travel to Swaziland for the return encounter in two weeks time but Mwase wants his troops to get it over and done with in the first leg.
“We are at home and we need a comfortable result so that when we go to Swaziland we shouldn’t be under much pressure,” he said.
Mwase also believes that his stint with Swaziland football—when he coached that country’s top-flight league side Mbabane Highlanders—could help the Junior Flames’ cause.
“I once coached in Swaziland and I know what to expect from them ahead of the match,” he said.
His Swaziland counterpart Dumsani Makhanya—a former Swaziland national team defender—also has knowledge about Malawi football having played against the Flames at senior level on a number of occasions.
But when asked what he expects from Malawi he said: “I don’t talk about other teams but my own team. My boys are ready and we are hoping to win this match.”
Makhanya said he is confident of emerging victorious because his players, some of whom he said play in the Swazi top league, are exposed internationally.
“Our youth development set up is that the players rise up the radar. These guys played a couple of games in the Under-17 before being promoted to the Under-20. They are experienced enough to withstand the pressure,” he said.
Malawi are likely to bank their hopes on Portuguese-based forward Abel Mwakilama and Griffin Young Stars forward Peter Banda.
Mwakilama is a natural goal poacher who came to limelight after helping Chitipa United to earn Super League promotion when he netted 38 times in 35 games.
The winner of this two-legged tie will face Angola in the second round.
Malawi last contested in the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in 2013. The Junior Flames reached the finals of the competition in 1999.