Malawi national women’s football team is confident that they can launch their campaign at the Cosafa Women’s Championship with a victory over islanders Madagascar this afternoon at Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Though the team will be without four key players, including China-based captain Tabitha Chawinga, her Sweden-based sister Temwa, vice-captain Madyina Ngulube and Fanny Mwale, coach Abel Mkandawire is still optimistic that her charges can perform wonders.
“We had 28 players in camp. So, minus the four, we still have others that we can look up to,” he said.
Mkandawire said time has come for other players to step up and prove they can fit in the Chawinga sisters’ shoes.
“When Tabitha was around, she used to encourage the players to work hard because she might not always be available. Now that she is not here, the players know that it is their time to shine,” he said.
In the absence of the Chawinga sisters, Mkandawire will look up to former Sweden-based forward Sabina Thom, prolific striker Linda Kasenda and attacker Shira Dimba.
Multi-talented defender Towera Vinkhumbo, who joined the team after starring for the Malawi national netball team, the Queens, at Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England, is another key player.
Vinkhumbo, who was not with the team at last year’s edition of the Cosafa Women’s Championship, said she was ready to give her all.
“The morale is high. I want to assure the nation that we are winning the first game,” she said. “Our target is to qualify and bring back home medals.”
Though the team did not play international strength-testing matches and instead, played friendly matches against under-20 men’s teams, Mkandawire said the preparations were good.
“We had good preparations in Malawi. Here we will just execute our game-plan. The players know the system we are going to use,” he said. “Our target is to reach the semi-final and if possible the final.”
This is the third time for the two sides to meet at the Cosafa Women’s Championship.
They were in the same group in the past two editions of the tournament and Malawi triumphed in both matches, beating Madagascar 6-3 in 2017 and 2-0 in 2018.
A win in the opening match of the 2019 edition will help the team edge close to their quest of qualifying for the semi-final.
If they beat Madagascar, they will need to win just one more game against the other Group A members, hosts South Africa or Comoros, to book a place in the knockout stage.
Group B has Zambia, Namibia, Mauritius and Botswana. Zimbabwe headline Group C, where they will take on Mozambique, Angola and e-Swatini (formerly Swaziland).
Only the top team in each pool advances to the semi-finals, along with the best second-place finisher.
Council for Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) will hold both women’s senior and Under-20 tournaments at the same time, but Malawi is participating in the seniors’ championship only.
Cosafa deputy chief executive officer Suzgo Nyirenda, who is responsible for competitions, said they decided to hold the two competitions at the same time as South Africa commemorates women’s month this month.