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Junior Flames take on wounded Warriors

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Malawi Under-20 National Football Team had a bumpy touchdown at OR Tambo Airport in South Africa on Monday morning but on the pitch, Coach Gerald Phiri Senior, expects a smooth take-off Friday afternoon.

The Junior Flames get their Cosafa Youth Championship in motion against Zimbabwe’s Young Warriors at the 15,000-seater Moruleng Stadium in North West Province.

The Zimbabweans return to the venue where they lost 1-5 to rivals Zambia on Wednesday in a Group B opener.

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Watching Zimbabwe being humiliated, even when they did not necessarily play badly, was Phiri and his backroom team.

Now, Phiri has the unenviable task of figuring out how to contain the wounded opposition that fields three attackers- Bukhosi Sibanda, Prince Dube and King Sanama while emphasising shape and defensive discipline.

However, small matters of concentration cost the Zimbabweans the game against Zambia.

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Malawi even need more discipline if they are to get a win against Zimbabwe before taking on Zambia on Sunday at the same venue.

The last time the senior Flames visited this mountainous area, that borders Botswana, the performance was lukewarm.

But Phiri is optimistic that his raw charges, mostly drawn from the FMB Under-20 League, regional leagues and Malawi Under 17 national team graduates, can stand out to be counted starting from today’s meeting against Zimbabwe.

“The team is ready. We had some friendly games and the guys showed that they are ready for the games. It is going to be a difficult game but we are ready. My primary interest is the development of the players,” Phiri said.

The Azam Tigers’ coach is likely to feature Christopher Mikuwa between the sticks with towering Hadji Wali leading the defence in front of the Mike Mkwate-led midfield.

Exciting Peter Banda is expected to play behind strikers Frank Chizuze and Franscisco Madinga.

Zimbabwe Coach Mandla Mpofu described the meeting against Malawi as a must-win in view of Wednesday’s setback.

“After that defeat, first we must rebuild the confidence in the boys. I expect a better performance against Malawi,” Mpofu said.

The humid weather is similar to that of Blantyre where the Junior Flames trained-winning four training matches and losing two; hence, there should be no excuse about the weather.

However, experience has shown that coaches get a fairer idea of players, even more those who have never set foot on the international stage, through international friendlies.

Phiri did not have the luxury of such friendlies but hopes the few relatively experienced players such as towering sweeper Wali, slick midfielder Mkwate and the explosive Banda can deliver the goods.

The two-week tournament promises to be high scoring with 16 goals being registered on the opening day.

In other group games, Swaziland stunned Botswana 2-0 at Moruleng Stadium whereas hosts and defending champions, South Africa, thumped Lesotho 8-0.

The tournament runs until December 17.

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