Malawi National Women’s Football Team yesterday stormed into the 2021 Cosafa Women’s Championship final for the first time after a deserved 3-2 victory over hosts and defending champions South Africa at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The result, which set up a final against tournament guests Tanzania, was a true reflection of the highly explosive match monitored on DStv’s SuperSport channel as the Scorchers put up a classic performance to deny the hosts the fourth consecutive and eighth title.
After losing 2-1 to Banyana in the group stages, the Scorchers did their homework and controlled the tempo of the game, thanks to a combination of excellent defending and attacking as a unit.
It was not surprising that Malawi drew first blood in the 36th minute through striker Fazila Chembekezo.
Left-back Ireen Khumalo’s 45-metre free-kick from the centre circle into the box was flicked by right-back Ruth Nyirongo towards Chembekezo, whose free header caught South Africa goalkeeper Kaylin Christen Swart unawares.
But the hosts recovered swiftly and levelled through Sibulele Howleni in first-half added-on time.
The striker picked up a miscued clearance from midfielder Asimenye Simwaka just outside the box before turning to fire into top-right-corner, beating goalkeeper Ruth Mhango.
The second half saw the hosts upping their game with a barrage of attacks that at times exposed Malawi’s fragility.
But the Scorchers absorbed the pressure, much to the frustration of their highly rated hosts.
Malawi restored the lead through Sabina Thom in the 73rd minute after being played in by Simwaka.
The winger made amends for her earlier mistake after breaking free on the right flank before laying it for Thom who controlled the ball before firing past overstretched Swart.
But Banyana again equalised in the 80th minute. Captain Madidya Nguluwe gifted the hosts the second goal from the spot-kick after committed a foul in the box.
Scorchers goalkeeper Mhango dived in the right direction, but could not reach Howleni’s powerful spot-kick.
The turning point of the match came in the 86th minute when the Scorchers returned to the driving seat through Thom after a defensive blunder by the hosts.
A reckless back pass by Banyana’s Mamello Makhabeni was cleared by Bambanane Mbane into the path of Thom, who sent a volley into the hosts’ yawning net to seal Banyana’s fate.
The third goal deflated the hosts’ morale as the reality sank in that they had failed to defend the title after losing to a team they had never lost to before.
Footballer-cum-sprinter Simwaka was named Player of the Match.
Coach McNelbert Kazuwa did some push-ups after the final whistle before joining his girls on the pitch to celebrate the historic victory.
He said he was proud of his charges for a well-fought battle.
Kazuwa said: “I am very happy to make it into the final, especially after overcoming a team like South Africa. We prepared for this match. Remember, I said we will surprise Banyana. The girls really worked hard.”
The Scorchers now switch their attention to Tanzania and Kazuwa said they will not be distracted the semi-finals victory.
He said: “We are not resting. We are meeting Tanzania and it will be a different team altogether. We will prepare for them.”
South Africa coach Desiree Ellis congratulated Malawi on the victory and blamed the loss on some mistakes at the back.
“I think we are our worst enemy. We didn’t take opportunities. I think we gave away the third goal,” she said.