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Under-20 hope to break 11-year jinx

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Malawi Under-20 National Football Team will be hoping to go beyond the group stages of the Cosafa Men’s Under-20 Cup after failing to do so for the past 11 years.

The Junior Flames last achieved the feat in 2011 when they finished fourth in a competition that took place in Botswana.

Drawn in Group C of this year’s competition alongside South Africa, Comoros Islands and Namibia, Malawi have renewed hope ahead of their opening fixture against the South Africans at Somhlolo Stadium in eSwatini from noon.

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The competition is a qualifier for the 2023 TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations to be staged in Egypt.

Malawi last qualified for the finals of the continental showpiece in 1999 when the competition was hosted in Ghana.

In 2018, the Junior Flames nearly qualified again but were eliminated in the final round following a 2-0 loss on aggregate to South Africa.

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Malawi had managed a goal-less draw away to South Africa but lost at home.

Probably, the Patrick Mabedi boys will be fighting to break the 11-year jinx.

On paper, Mabedi has assembled a strong squad capable of beating any team in the region.

However, they just need to be determined throughout the competition.

In his 20-member squad, Mabedi has included good players such as Chikumbutso Salima, Emmanuel Saviel, Joshua Waka, Chifundo Mphasi and Masambiro Kaluwa.

Mabedi just needs to feature the players on merit. Again, he should also study his opponents and feature players according to game-plan.

Before departure, Mabedi had said his troops will be looking for an improved performance this year.

’’Our target is simple-win the first game and fight to win the second one. But I do not want to put pressure on the boys. Our goal is to win every game and see what happens next,’’ Mabedi told Fam.mw.

Malawi will meet Comoros Islands in the second match before wrapping up their group assignments against Namibia.

Only the group winners and the overall best runners-up will advance to the semi-finals of the competition.

The champions and the runners-up will book a ticket to next year’s continental finals.

Sports analyst Moses Chavula said the Junior Flames have chances of qualifying.

’’We have talented players in the team. They should just play to enjoy the game. It is possible to make history,’’ Chavula said.

In 2019, Malawi thumped Comoros 4-0 in their opening match but a 2-2 draw against Botswana and a 2-1 loss to Zambia killed off their chances of advancing to the last four.

In the following year, the Junior Flames only managed a 1-0 win over Comoros but lost 2-1 and 2-0 to Namibia and Zambia respectively.

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