Malawi striker Tabitha Chawinga is one of the leading stars to come out of the Southern African region in the last decade, and is now hoping to make a return to the Cosafa Women’s Championship for the first time since she competed in 2017.
She reveals the importance of the competition in helping to shape the careers of many players in Southern Africa ahead of the 2020 edition that kicked off in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, on Tuesday and ends on November 14.
You finished among the leading scorers in the Chinese Women’s Super League again with Jiangsu Suning, but are now back in Malawi. How are you feeling?
I am back from China now after a good season, and I must thank everybody for everything. It was a tough season for me and the team, but a good one. Now we are preparation for the Cosafa [tournament], it is one we want to win. It will be a challenge and we will have to play well as a team. But I am really looking forward to going to South Africa.
Along with your sister Temwa you could be one of the stars of the 2020 Cosafa Women’s Championship given your respective statuses as professional players abroad …
My youngster sister and I have played professionally together in Sweden and China. It was not easy to get to where we are and we must thank God. But of course we also work hard ourselves. We have done well I think, and now we are here together in the Malawi national team. But I must also say, it is not only about us, it is about the whole team. We are just two members of the squad. But I hope what we have achieved does give motivation to the other players and shows them what is possible. We just want to help the team go far in the tournament. We are very motivated to do that. This Cosafa tournament is a good challenge for us, and the national team as a whole can learn a lot from this experience. It has helped to develop a lot of our African stars. Look at Zambia, they have Barbra [Banda], and of course the South Africa players as well. We all need this challenge.
What are the differences between playing in Sweden and China?
There is a big gap, of course, though it is closing. Sweden is a top league, but China is coming up little by little. It is a very good league now. For me, I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience because in Sweden I played with players from a lot of different countries, who all have something to teach. They are national team players and many have been to World Cups, so it is a great league to gain experience. China is becoming like that. But wherever you go you have to work hard to show who you are and prove yourself. It doesn’t matter which league you are in.
Do you believe Malawi can qualify for the African Women’s Championship in the near future?
I think if we have the right preparation and the right resources, we can do anything. Of course, it is everybody’s ambition to go to the African Women’s Championship and the World Cup, but you must have the right things in place. Of course, we need to try and go to the World Cup, we need to believe we belong there. Our football needs to develop, we need to bring through young stars who can helps us get to where we want to go. And for this you need to be hosting tournaments and playing at tournaments [like Cosafa]. That is how you prepare and build.
Inevitably there will be a lot of eyes on you as the lead striker, do you feel the pressure to perform when you play for Malawi?
It is 11 versus 11, on our own we cannot do anything. We have a goalkeeper, a defence, midfielder and I am a striker, and everybody has to do their job well. That is how you win. It is not just about one or two players, it is everybody that needs to perform. It is all about teamwork, that is how you win games. And we also need a great team spirit and a belief that we can win.
What do you hope to achieve at the Cosafa Women’s Championship this year?
Like I said, Cosafa is the best tournament to prepare. It is to prepare for the Olympics [qualifiers], for the African championship and for the World Cup. South Africa is a good example of this, they have won a lot of Cosafa tournaments in a row, and look how well they have been doing in qualifying for big tournaments. Without the Cosafa, I think even a team like South Africa would not be so strong, definitely not. Zambia are starting to rise as well, I think because of going to Cosafa tournaments every year. Zimbabwe also. Malawi must also do that and when at the tournaments, we must try to use the tournament to do this.—Cosafa