By Mabvuto Kambuwe, In Port Elizabeth, Rsa:
An early bird catches the worm—this is the message the She-Flames players have been told as they open their 2019 Cosafa Women’s Championship against Madagascar’s Barea at Wolfson Stadium in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa.
The She-Flames hope for a better start this year after a poor opening in a previous outing.
Today’s match would be a repeat of last year’s fixture which ended 2-0 in favour of the She- Flames.
However, the She-Flames should exercise caution against Madagascar, who have improved a lot since 2017.
From last year’s She-Flames squad, only Fanny Mwale and Vice-Captain Madina Ngulube are absent this year due to injuries.
Coach Abel Mkandawire, in charge for the She-Flames for the first time at this regional showpiece, Tuesday said today’s game is a must-win to boost the players’ confidence.
“We have no doubt that we will achieve a top-four finish this year. Our training from first day camp has been good and the players are fit for the tournament,” said Mkandawire, whose side will also be without Captain Tabitha Chawinga and her sister Temwa due to club commitments.
But experienced Sabina Thom, who returned from Sweden, is back in the fold after missing last year’s tournament due to club commitments. She could provide the much-needed balance.
Multi-talented Towera Vinkhumbo, just a week after taking part in the Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England will feature in the She-Flames’ defence and she is the Vice- Captain.
Mkandawire is not panicking with the absence of the Chawinga sisters whose deadly combination routed Mozambique 14-1 in the 2020 Olympic Games qualifiers.
“This is the time for the players to show us that they deserve to wear the She-Flames jersey. It is an opportunity for them to make a name and be counted,” Mkandawire said.
After arrival on Monday night, Vinkhumbo promised to bring medals.
“Our aim is to try to win medals here and we are confident that we will do it,” she said.
In the absence of Madina, Mkandawire has midfield options such as Bridget Nkuzilire, Salome Vinkhumbo and Shilla Dimba.
Towera will likely lead the defence alongside Fatsireni Mazembe, Ruth Nyirongo and Emily Jossam.
Mercy Sikelo and Samir Amidu would compete for a starting role between the two sticks.
Last year, Malawi started the competition with a 2-0 loss to Botswana before beating Madagascar then losing 0-6 to South Africa to exit the tournament at the group stages.
Malawi last reached the semi-finals of the competition in 2011, when the tournament took place in Zimbabwe.
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