Malawi Under-20 women football national team yesterday banked on a late equaliser against Zimbabwe in an intriguing Under-20 World Cup preliminary round qualifier first-leg to keep their qualifying dreams alive.
A fantastic finish by substitute Yamikani Mhango three minutes to time at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre was enough for the Young Scorchers to cancel out Young Warriors’ lead and ensure both sides are at par going into the second leg away in Bulawayo between January 31 and February 2.
On a cold and showery day, the hosts had the home-crowd backing but could hardly take advantage of it as they squandered a number of scoring opportunities, especially in the first half.
After a cautious start, they appeared to have insatiable hunger for early goals as they launched numerous attacks but their efforts either went wide or ended in the palms of Zimbabwe goalkeeper Cynthia Shonga.
In the second half, the encounter graduated into a tense affair dominated by plenty of midfield action with Malawi goalkeeper Ruth Mhango being up to the task except in the 59th minute when Shyline Dambamuromo gave the visitors a lead.
She headed into the net a Valeria Packru corner kick leaving advancing goalkeeper Mhango helplessly sprawling on the ground. Malawi defenders could have done better had they been fast enough to clear their lines.
But the moment for the Young Scorchers came in the 87th minute when Yamikani Mhango rose to the occasion. She connected home a fabulous pass from Gladys Banda in the box.
“We wasted a lot of opportunities especially in the first half. Nevertheless, it was well understood as this was their first time to play an international match at home,” said Malawi coach Maggie Chombo Sadiki.
“In spite of that, we will go back to the drawing board to rectify our mistakes so as to come out stronger in the return match.”
On her part, Young Warriors coach Rosemary Mugadza said Malawi’s last gasp surge caught them off-guard and they are prepared to win the second leg.
“We were forced to play under pressure in the dying minutes and we ended up conceding a goal. I tell you that we would not repeat such a mistake in the return match back in Zimbabwe,” she said.
National Women Football Association (NWFA) chairperson Suzgo Ngwira said the Malawi team will not break camp to ensure thorough preparations for the second leg.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Football Association has also announced that entry into the match in Bulawayo will be free but Chombo-Sadiki said the development will not intimidate her charges.