Once beaten, twice shy. Probably this is the script that Malawi women’s national football team players will be reading when taking part in this year’s Cosafa Cup in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa.
The team regrouped on Thursday at Mpira Village in Blantyre ahead of the championship slated for November 3-14. But it has been nine years since Malawi progressed beyond the group stages in the competition. There is renewed hope in Scorchers camp this year following the revised perks for the players.
From now onwards, the Scorchers players will be getting K300,000 each for a win in Africa Cup of Nations matches whereas half the amount for a draw. For Cosafa Cup, each player will get K200,000 for a win and K100,000 for a draw.
External allowances have been raised from $50 (K38,000) to $100 (K76,000). On top of that, players will get K150,000 appearance fee for tournaments and K100,000 for friendly matches. The possible availability of China-based Chawinga sisters, Tabitha and Temwa, for the first time since 2017 is also a major boost for the team.
Tabitha played her first Cosafa Cup in 2017 in Zimbabwe. The pair had a good season in Chinese Women’s Super League after they both reached the finals but it was Temwa who had the last laugh after helping her side, Wuhan, to win their first-ever league title in 19 years.
Temwa scored nine goals and finished as the league’s second top goalscorer, nine goals behind Zambian Barbra Banda. With good preparations ahead of this year’s competition which will be played behind closed doors due to Covid-19 pandemic, the Scorchers have potential to break the jinx.
According to Cosafa website, the Cosafa Women’s championship was introduced in 2002 with the inaugural event taking place in Zimbabwe. There has been seven previous Cosafa Women’s championship since the first event was held. South Africa have dominated the event winning six titles of the seven competition with Zimbabwe winning it once when they hosted the tournament in 2011.
Since the competition was introduced in 2002, the Scorchers have never won the competition or reached the finals. Their best ever finish was in 2011 when they reached the semifinals but were eliminated after a 5-1 loss to South Africa.
It was also a mixed fortune for the Scorchers in 2011 having made history by reaching the semifinals for the first time, they suffered their heaviest defeat in the competition when they lost 8-2 to Zimbabwe in the group stages.
There might be lessons from the previous editions but lack of proper preparations could be one of the main reasons for the Scorchers’ comical display. This is a real test for Scorchers new coach Macnebat Kazuwa who was assistant to Abel Mkandawire last year. Kazuwa’s task is guiding the Scorchers past the group stages for the first time since 2011.
With the squad at his disposal, it is possible but another challenge could be lack of fitness among his players due to a long break. Kazuwa has inherited a squad which has been dormant for close to a year due to football suspension due to Covid-19. It is expected that majority of the players have gained weight or lost form due to inactivity. The coach must shape his troops in a space of two weeks before the tournament kicks off. Perhaps, Kazuwa has a special plan for his girls who most of the time are unpredictable.
Between now and November, Kazuwa must also try to instill fighting spirit among the players. Experience has shown that the Scorchers give up easily and they are not a comeback team if recent performance is anything to by. For the past two editions, the Scorchers have been drawn against defending champions and hosts South Africa, who have proved to be a huge hurdle restricting the Scorchers from progressing to the semifinals.
In 2018, Malawi under the tutelage of women’s football icon Maggie Chombo started the competition with a 2-0 loss to Botswana but recovered to beat Madagascar by the similar margin in the second game. However, in the last group stage match, the Scorchers were taught some football lessons after they were thrashed 6-0 by South Africa.
Come 2019, Malawi were also paired against South Africa, Madagascar and Comoros Islands. It was an improved performance from Malawi under Mkandawire as they started the campaign with 2-0 victory over Madagascar before registering their 13-0 record win over Comoros Islands but suffered a respectable 3-1 loss to Banyana Banyana.