Malawi Under-20 national football team coach Peter Mponda says he is not under pressure as the junior Flames today take on Comoros in their Cosafa Under-20 Youth Championship opening game at Nkoloma Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia.
The match will be Mponda’s first assignment in his maiden task as head coach for a national team, having previously served as assistant coach at both senior and junior levels after being taken under the wings of immediate past Flames coach Ronny van Geneugden in 2017.
His appointment as Under-20 national team head coach came at a price as some members of National Football Coaches Association (NFCA) and a section of the soccer fraternity questioned his qualifications.
But Mponda, a Confederation of African Football (CAF) C licence holder, has said he is not under pressure to prove his worth.
“There will be no pressure. We have a bunch of good players who can do a good job for Malawi. These boys don’t have any pressure. I would say that we had good preparations for this tournament and we have absolutely no excuse.
“We had 40 players in camp which we managed to trim to 20. I would say the boys responded very well. We have trusted them. Now it’s up to them to deliver,” he said.
After this afternoon’s match, Malawi’s attention will shift to Saturday’s match against Botswana before facing hosts Zambia in the last group fixture next Monday.
Malawi has never made it past the group stage since 2010 when they made it to the semi-finals as Group B winners and lost to Angola.
Last year, Malawi finished at the bottom of Group A after losing to hosts Zambia and guests Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The team also draw against Mozambique.
Mponda said they have not done any homework on the opponents as the technical panel preferred to concentrate on own game plan.
“If I say we have analysed Comoros, I will be lying to the country. If I say we have analysed Botswana or Zambia, then I will be cheating the country. All we have been doing is to prepare the boys. We want to play our way.
“Yes, we know that it is a tough group, but we are concentrating on our performance. If we look too much into what Zambia, Comoros and Botswana are doing, we will lose our focus. We have a game plan which we need to implement,” he said.
Asked if they have set any target for themselves, Mponda said: “We know that Malawians are starving for results and we want to give them that. But what I want to see is that these players should graduate to the senior national team or Under-23 after this tournament. Then I will say I have achieved my target,” he said.
FAM general secretary Alfred Gunda said they expect the team to do better than last year.
“We must always go to a tournament with a target in mind. You can’t go to a tournament without a target. Yes, it’s a developmental tournament, but what is development if we are not improving?
“If last year we failed to reach the knockout stage, then we must target to reach at least the knockout stage this year. If we failed to go past preliminary stage, then we must set our mind to ensure we go beyond that stage,” he said.
Soccer analyst Charles Nyirenda said Mponda has an opportunity to prove those that doubt his clout.
“If I were Mponda, I would use this tournament to silence my critics once and for all,” he said.
Malawi’s best performance in the age group was in 2003 when they lost 4-0 to Zambia in the finals in South Africa.