Malawi Under-17 Boys National Football Team is relishing its chances of qualifying for the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals, with South Africa standing in its path.
The two teams meet this evening at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe to determine who goes through to the final of the African Union Sports Council Region 5 Games, which are being used as qualifiers.
This is a battle whose winner will automatically book a place at next year’s Afcon finals in Algeria.
The other semi-final will involve Zambia and Botswana at the same venue.
Besides fighting for a ticket to the continental showpiece, the four teams will be battling for the region’s ultimate prize.
Malawi have renewed hope that qualification is possible on home soil with a squad that is hungry for success.
However, South Africa’s Amajimbos are not pushovers at this stage and the junior Flames need to be extra careful.
Qualification for the continental showpiece will see Malawi writing their own piece of history as it will be the second time for them to do so—having last achieved the feat in 2009.
Interestingly, the Afcon finals also took place in Algeria then, with Malawi going on to qualify for the World Youth Championship despite losing to Niger and Burkina Faso in the opening group matches before thrashing Zimbabwe 5-1.
South Africa will be hoping for back-to-back Afcon qualification, having made it in 2021 alongside Zambia.
Malawi and South Africa are familiar foes, having shared the spoils in a 2-2 stalemate in 2020.
This, therefore, means that the match is a big test for either side.
However, Malawi coach DeKlerk Msakakuona said his troops were ready to rumble.
“We have prepared well for this match. It is a very important fixture and we will play to win it. The boys are in high spirits and everything is in place,” he said.
Msakakuona will be hoping for a better showing from his charges, who have failed to keep a clean sheet in two matches.
Again, in two matches, the junior Flames got results after coming from behind.
However, Malawi have their hopes in Vincent Harrison, Mwisho Mhango and Blessings Kanowa, who are potential match winners.
South Africa have also shown great character in this tournament and are proving to be a hard nut to crack.
Amajimbos are likely to go into this match with a full-strength team after coach Duncan Crowie rested eight key players in the 1-0 defeat to Zambia.
This should be a warning to Malawi that they will be up against a changed side as leading goal scorer Siyabonga Mabena, who has six goals, captain Benjamin Walis and Gernnaro Johnson are expected to return.
On their way to the semi-finals, Malawi drew 2-2 with Botswana before beating Namibia 2-1 to finish top of Group A with four points whereas South Africa collected six points to finish second in Group B.