Malawi under-17 national football team’s chances of reaching this year’s Cosafa Youth Championship semifinals suffered a big blow after surrendering a one-goal lead to lose 1-2 to eSwatini at Mpira Stadium in Chiwembe Township, Blantyre, Monday.
It was a disappointing showing as the junior Flames now face a tough task to stun hot contenders Zambia who lead the group with six points.
Malawi players lay on the pitch after the final whistle in dejection while other spectators and officials stood motionless, hands akimbo, in disbelief.
Playing after pacesetters Zambia had demolished South Africa 7-0, the junior Flames knew that they had to impress to underline their intent regarding the championship.
It was also a game meant to test Malawi’s attacking ruthlessness as eSwatini lost 6-0 to Zambia on Saturday.
eSwatini goalkeeper Siyabonga Magagula was probably the busiest, making a string of saves to deny Malawi on several occasions.
Despite playing too deep in their own half, eSwatini twice threatened the hosts with quick counterattacks as gaps started appearing in the junior Flames’ defence.
Malawi breathed a sigh of relief after ever impressive Noel Sakala underlined his billing with a solo effort that sailed beyond Magagula in the 61st minute.
But eSwatini equalised through Captain Colan Dvuba who took advantage of Malawi’s defensive lapse in the 68th minute.
Substitute Bongani Mlanga, who tormented Malawi at will, wove his magic which saw Khayaletu Zitha heading home the winner in the 73rd minute.
In reaction, angry supporters shouted at Flames under-17 goalkeeper Wongani Chimkonde as they felt that he did not do enough to save his side from humiliation.
However, Malawi Coach, De Klerk Msakakuona, said he remained hopeful of advancing to the last four.
“We struggled in the first half and did not create enough chances. We came back into the game in the second half but gave away the two goals. Our chances of reaching the semifinals are now slim but there is hope,” Msakakuona said.
eSwatini Coach, Gcina Dlamini, said it was a balanced affair and hailed Malawi for featuring a squad within the right age bracket.
Former Flames Coach Kinnah Phiri, who is now Director of Football in the Ministry of Sports, said Malawi paid dearly for a casual approach.
“Our players thought that it would be a walkover but they were surprised. eSwatini played too deep and were just hitting the ball to their lone striker,” he said.
Malawi face Zambia Wednesday in a must-win game as they conclude their group games.