The Malawi Under-20 national soccer team are buoyed up ahead of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Under-20 Championship this afternoon at Kamuzu Stadium.
Coach Ernest Mtawali’s familiarity with Botswana style of football will be an added advantage for the Junior Flames.
The last time Malawi took part in a similar competition was in 2010 when they drew 2-2 against Tanzanian in the first leg and lost 3-1 in the away game.
Botswana, too, has had a bad run in this tournament recently. In 2012, they lost 0-4 to Zimbabwe in the first leg before drawing 1-1 in the second leg.
Junior Flames are disadvantaged in that they have stayed idle for a long time while the Botswana side has been relatively active.
However, assistant coach Gerald Phiri believes the team’s inactivity could be made up for Mtawali’s expertise since he has coached some big teams in South Africa.
“Mtawali is a good coach and he is conversant with the type of football in Botswana. He has vast experience as a player and coach. It has been valuable to the players. We have been working on weakness in their system of football and I think we are ready for the challenge. We need to score two quick goals to disturb them,” said Phiri in a telephone interview from Blantyre.
On his part, Mtawali was confident of winning the home fixture.
“The players have been responding well in training and they are in shape. We just ask for support from the home fans to make the atmosphere hostile for the visitors. It is important we win the match so that we go to Gaborone with an advantage and force them to play under-pressure,” said Mtawali.
Mtawali might just be the person to rekindle the 1999 memories when the Malawi Under-20 squad qualified for the championship in Ghana, although they were eliminated in group stages.
According to the Malawi technical panel, players to watch in their camp include Brighton Munthali, Ernest Tambe, Mac Fodya, Anthony Kaipa, Abraham Kamwendo, Wongani Kabisaufa, Maxwell Salambula, Khumbo Ng’ambi, Stanley Sanudi and Brian Phiri.
Salambula and Kamwendo could add the needed experience as they were active in the just-ended Super League season for their clubs Blue Eagles and Mighty Wanderers respectively.
“We have both experienced and raw talent so it is a good blend. Kamwendo has been outstanding both at his former club, Blantyre United, and also at Wanderers. Hopefully, he can translate that form on national duty,” said Phiri.
Technical director John Kaputa observes that the winning mentality of team manager Nicholas Mhango, who has won Moyale Barracks major trophies, would also motivate the boys.
“The technical panel is a blend of knowledge. Mtawali is good and has played at the highest level. Mhango is a proved winning coach and so, too, is Gerald Phiri. We can carry the day on Saturday,” said Kaputa who is expected to arrive back home from South Africa today.
A Lilongwe-based Flames diehard fan, Chimwemwe Nyimbiri, said it is important for the fans to converge on Kamuzu Stadium in large numbers to intimidate the visiting team.
“The Under-20 is the future national team. We must give them all the support the way we do with the senior Flames. I urge fellow supporters to pack the stadium and make the Tswanas see red,” said Nyimbiri.
Memories are still fresh of the humiliation the Malawi Under-17 suffered at the hands of Botswana at Civo Stadium in Lilongwe in 2012 in the African Youth Championship. Apparently, the majority of the visiting players today are those who were in that squad while the Malawi side is relatively new.