The Malawi Under-20 national football team will this afternoon start their campaign against Zimbabwe in Group B of the Cosafa Under-20 Championship without the services of their talisman Peter Banda, who is nursing a knee injury.
Team manager Griffin Saenda Jnr said the 16-year-old attacking midfielder, who won the Golden Boot award with five goals during the recent 2016 Cosafa Under-17 tournament in Mauritius, suffered a knock to his knee during a training session.
“This is a big blow to our attacking line. We are doubtful if he will pass a late fitness test ahead of our first game tomorrow [today]. However, we are keeping our fingers crossed that he recovers to feature in our second match against Zambia on Sunday,” Saenda Jnr, who is also Banda’s uncle, said.
Today’s match against Zimbabwe is a must-win for Malawi if they are to have realistic chances of progressing to the semi-finals, considering that only one team from the three-team group B will progress to the last four stage.
The fact that Zambia has already shown great intent to cruise into the last-four stage with ease following a 5-1 thrashing of Zimbabwe in the group’s opening match yesterday, makes Malawi’s chances even tougher.
In spite of that, Malawi is the only team in the group that did not have international friendly matches prior to the Cosafa trip and they are a relatively new squad that camped for only two weeks. They managed to win four of their six training matches against top-flight domestic clubs.
But despite odds being stacked against them, Saenda Jnr said the Junior Flames are geared for a good-start to their campaign.
“We will seek God’s intervention and we are working hard to defy the odds. The players know how important our first game is and they have promised to do their best. We urge Malawians to keep us in prayers,” he said.
According to Saenda, the Gerald Phiri-led technical panel watched the Zambia versus Zimbabwe game and they have picked out some important details about their opponents’ style of play for their own good.
Soccer analyst Charles Nyirenda yesterday said although it will be a tall older for Malawi to make a good-start, he is optimistic that the game will weigh in their favour.
“Our team kept changing in training, where some players were released due to over-age days before their departure. This poses a challenge to our technical panel. But we need to wait until our boys play their first match to have a feel of what shape they are in,” Nyirenda said.
“As regards winning the competition, I doubt whether we can do it with a hastily-assembled side considering that in the past we failed when we had better prepared teams.”