Malawi Under-17 national soccer team coach John Kaputaâ€™s dream of guiding the team to yet another CAFÂ Youth Championship finals was shattered after his side was booted out in the preliminary round by Botswana 4-2 on post match penalties on Friday evening in Gaborone.
Playing in his absence as he was undergoing an operation on his broken ankle back home, the Junior Flames lost 2-1 in regulation time.
This meant the tie ended 3-3 on aggregate as Malawi also won by the same margin in the first leg in Lilongwe two weeks ago.
Botswana led 2-0 before Brian Phiri pulled one back to level the ties to force the match into penalties.
Phiri, who was also the teamâ€™s hero when he scored a brace in the first leg, then become a villain as he missed his spot kick alongside Thokozani Harrison.Â
Boston Kabango and Gibson Kaluwa converted their kicks but it was not enough as Botswana scored all their four penalties to book a place in the next round.
Â Football Association of Malawi Technical director Jack Chamangwana, who assisted stand-in coach Leo Mpulula, blamed the loss on biased officiation by the Mozambican referees.
â€œThe boys played good football, but were let down by poor calls by the referees.Â Â We scored two clean goals, but were disallowed. They even awarded a dubious penalty to Botswana in the 3rdÂ minute and this psychologically affected the players.
â€œEven Botswana coach said in an interview that his side was aided by some dubious refereeing decisions. So, it is very disappointing indeed,â€ said Chamangwana in a telephone interview from Gaborone yesterday morning.
He also ruled out fears that the team was affected by Kaputaâ€™s absence.
â€œThe boys played very well and we dominated the match. We also missed some chances which I can largely blame on inexperience. This was the first game away from home for the boys and their second international unlike Botswana who have been together since last year and have played quite a number of games. We missed Kaputa, but it did not affect the players,â€ he said.
The team was expected to return home on Saturday through the Kamuzu International Airport.
The last time the team took part in the competition they managed to qualify for the finals that were held in Algeria in 2009 where they finished fourth.