Malawi Under-17 national football team yesterday snatched a last-minute equaliser to force a two-all draw against Botswana’s Diamond Zebras in their Group B opener at Cosafa Under-17 Championship in South Africa.
Malawi, who played the better part of the match with 10 men, gave false hopes at Galvandale Stadium in Mandela Bay when they drew first blood in the 12th minute through midfielder Renald Mapulanga’s simple finish. But the going got tough after defender Cliff Mbewe was shown the red-card in the 25th minute for tripping a Botswana striker.
Botswana took advantage of the situation to restore parity just before half-time through Kgotso Tlhowe who went on to claim a brace towards the end.
However, just when it appeared doom and gloom for the Junior Flames, McDonald Chiwanda rose to the occasion in the 89th minute to make it two-all bringing relief in Malawi’s camp.
The stalemate is the best result for Botswana against Malawi in the competition as all their three previous encounters ended in triumphs for the Junior Flames.
Malawi won 2-0 in the group stages in 2001, 6-1 in 2007 and 2-0 in 2017.
“It was really a tough game for us after the red-card. However, I am happy that we got a point at the end of the match,” said Junior Flames coach Deklerk Msakakuona in a post-match interview monitored on Cosafa TV.
“Despite that, every player in the team is determined to do well in our upcoming games. We do not want to put too much pressure on these boys as we are trying to build a team for the future.”
Malawi captain Andrew Lameck, who was named Player of the Match, said although they did not get the result they wanted from their opening match, they will remain focused in a quest to register their first victory and progress to the last four.
Malawi had a good start with a string of exciting passes that forced Botswana into rearguard action. It paid off in the 12th minute when Mapulanga stabbed home a loose ball following a comedy of errors by a lethargic Botswana defence.
It was only after Mbewe was sent out for an early shower that the Junior Flames emerged on the receiving end of the Diamond Zebras’ attacks that led to Botswana’s goals.
Tlhowe blasted over the bar a close-range shot in a man-to-man situation with Malawi goalkeeper Justice Mhone in the closing stages.
This was after he broke away from Malawi’s defenders.
Malawi now have a tough task to beat defending champions Zambia in their second group match tomorrow before wrapping up their group encounters against Comoros next Wednesday.
Msakakuona said they are determined to make the semi-final and eventually reach the finals, which will be the requirement for Under-17 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualification.