For all the early promises, Malawi Under-20 National Football Team suffered a painful 2-0 loss to Comoros Islands at the ongoing TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Cosafa qualifiers at Mavuso Stadium in Manzini, eSwatini, Monday.
The defeat came just two days after the young Flames defeated South Africa by the same margin.
The result has dampened Malawi’s hopes of progressing to the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time in 11 years.
The loss means Malawi must beat Namibia in their last Group C match tomorrow to have any slim hopes of going through.
Winning alone will not be enough for the young Flames. They will also be praying that South Africa should beat Comoros by a huge margin.
Following the loss, Malawi are third in Group C with three points from two matches, three points behind leaders Comoros.
South Africa are second in the group on goal difference after thrashing Namibia 5-2 in a late match.
In yesterday’s match, Malawi coach Patrick Mabedi maintained the same starting line-up that beat South Africa on Saturday.
However, the young Flames struggled against a determined Comoros.
The Indian Ocean island team dominated the match with a line-up littered with France-based players.
The first 11 had Kenan Toibibou as the only home-based player.
Comoros started the match with purpose and threatened to harm Malawi on several occasions.
The islanders eventually broke the deadlock through Yakine Said in the 36th minute.
The two teams went for recess with Comoros holding on to the slender lead.
Malawi started the second half like a house on fire, pressurising Comoros in search of that elusive equaliser.
But the efforts were dealt a severe blow after defender Chimwemwe Nkhoma was shown a red card for a second bookable offence.
However, the young Flames continued to press hard despite their numerical disadvantage.
The efforts bore fruits moments later when Malawi were awarded a penalty but captain Chifundo Mphasi missed it. Substitute Samuel Betombo sealed the victory for Comoros in the 83rd minute after Malawi’s defence failed to clear the ball.
It was a killer punch that left the young Flames with no hope of coming back into the match and they trooped out of the stadium crest-fallen.
Mabedi said despite the loss, not all was lost.
“We started the match very well with Comoros sitting back. We also had our chances but missed a penalty. At this stage, we are still in it and anything can happen,” Mabedi said.
Group winners and best overall runners-up will advance to the semi-finals.
The finalists will qualify for the under-20 Afcon finals to be staged in Egypt next year.
Malawi last qualified for the continental finals in 1999.