Malawi Under-17 national football team coach Deklerk Msakakuona has apologised for the team’s failure to reach the knockout stage of the Cosafa Youth Championship for the second consecutive time.
Malawi missed the semi-finals after finishing third in the group that had Zambia, e-Swatini (formerly Swaziland) and South Africa.
The Under-17 beat South Africa 3-0, but went on to lose to e-Swatini (2-1) and Zambia (3-2), to become the first hosts since 2016 to bow out of the competition in group stages.
In an interview after the match, a visibly crashed Msakakuona, who has been in charge of the team since 2017, said they were punished for underrating e-Swatini and offered his apology to the football fans.
He said: “I think a lot of lessons have been learned and we will do better in the next tournament. A simple word to the supporters—we are sorry. We have let them down. They loved us most from October 11 when the tournament kicked off up to date.
“Despite losing to e-Swatini on Monday they still came in large numbers to support us in the last game. We did everything we could have done, but as I said football is cruel. The supporters have to accept the defeat as we have done. Next time we will give them victory.”
The former Blue Eagles coach said the loss to e-Swatini made them play under pressure against Zambia.
“If we had won or got a point in the game against e-Swatini we could have played our usual game against Zambia,” said Msakakuona.
But the coach said there is still something to smile about the tournament as it has unearthed talent which will be the future of Malawi football.
“We have to look forward. I know come 2020 the Under-17 Cosafa Youth Championship will be back. We just have to start preparations now to have time to be ready for the tournament,” he said.
His Zambian counterpart Osward Mutapa also echoed Msakakuona’s sentiments.
“It’s not the end of the world. Let’s support them. Let’s give them a chance to develop,” he said.
But soccer analyst David Kanyenda observed that Malawi had lost an opportunity to expose up-and-coming players.
“It’s sad and disappointing that the Under-17 national football team got knocked out so early. For me, these youth tournaments are primarily developmental. The most important dividend is the depth of the exposure.
“Our boys have played their last match already. Had they qualified, they would have been guaranteed more football. They would have played maximum number of games,” he said.