The Malawi Under-20 national soccer team is now within sniffing distance from the promised land after beating Botswana’s Young Zebras 2-1 in a first-round second leg encounter away in Gaborone, on Saturday.
Malawi qualified on a 3-2 aggregate and only the DR Congo stand in the Junior Flames’ way to the continental showpiece to be hosted by Senegal next year. The only and last time Malawi qualified for the tournament was in 1999.
The toast of the evening for the Junior Flames was no other than their trump card Chawanangwa Kaonga who lived to his word and struck a brace. The 18-year-old forward promised to score a double and in the end he did just that to the delight of coach Ernest Mtawali and many Malawians who followed the events as they unfolded through the social media.
The Batswanas went into this encounter with an away goal advantage having held the Junior Flames to a 1-all draw in the first leg and with the game goalless at interval, desperation took its toll on the visitors, but the message from their coach was simple: “Hold your nerve boys and you will get it over and done.”
Kaonga drew first blood in the 55th minute and then put the game beyond the Young Zebras’ reach 16 minutes later when his shot was deflected into the net by Lebobang Ditsele in a desperate attempt to clear it away.
However, the hosts hit one back in the 78th minute, through substitute OnkabetseMakgantai, but it was too little too late. It was the Junior Flames who turned the Molopolele Sports Centre into a theatre of celebration.
Even Botswana FA’s Facebook page, could not help but wax lyrical about the Flames and one of the postings read: “Malawi, looking tactically too good for our boys, they are so fast and confident on the ball, easily dealing with Botswana’s square balls.”
Mtawali hailed his charges for playing to instructions, saying: “Chawa [Chawanangwa] was outstanding, but I salute every player for giving out their best. We panicked in the first-half, but the boys were calm in the second half, they played their lungs out. My entire backroom staff also deserves a pat on the back, we worked as a team and in the end, we trooped out triumphant. Many thanks to FAM, government and all people back home for their support.”
This was Mtawali’s fifth international game in charge, he has won four and drawn one including the senior national team’s 1-0 win over Namibia in a 2014 World Cup qualifier.
Malawi’s starting line-up: Bright Munthali, Stanely Sanudi, Suwedi Limbani, Miracle Gabeya, Boston Kabango, Boston Manyozo, Isaac Phiri, Matias Nyirenda, Khumbo Ng’ambi, Kaonga, Dalitso Sailesi.