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Zimbabwe-based starlet joins Under-20

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Swayed by the wish of his uncle, the late Dean Pinto, Zimbabwe-based youngster, Azriel Kalin Johnson, has joined Malawi Under-20 National Football Team squad ahead of the Cosafa Youth Championship to run from December 7 to 16 in South Africa.

Blessed with height, Johnson has—because of his appearance—attracted attention from spectators monitoring the Junior Flames’ training sessions at Chiwembe Ground in Blantyre.

His wish to play for the Junior Flames comes when Malawi has missed out on many top players to Zimbabwe due to laxity among football administrators and the law that restricts dual citizenship.

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The likes of Sundowns playmaker, Khama Billiat, and former Manchester City forward, Benjan Mwaruwari, have Malawi roots but they were not coaxed to play for the Flames.

Speaking at Chiwembe Stadium after yesterday’s morning training session, Johnson said he was responding to the call which Pinto—a former Be Forward Wanderers player, sports administrator and coach—made after watching him play.Pinto died on April 9 2016.

“I am a Malawian. I was born here before I moved to Zimbabwe at the age of four. My mother’s side hails from Malawi whereas my father is from Zimbabwe. My late uncle [Pinto] asked me to return to Malawi and play for the Flames after watching some of my games at Uppervale College,” the 17-year-old said.

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Johnson, who has travelled to European countries such as Denmark, said Malawi was his first priority for a football career.

“This is my second time here. I also came when the Under-17 were in camp but I was told to wait for the Under-20. I just want to fulfill the wish of my late uncle,” Johnson said.

Under-20 Coach, Gerald Phiri Senior, said Johnson has the potential but he needs to fight for a place in the squad that will play against Zimbabwe and Zambia in Group B of the Cosafa Championship.

“Naturally, he is a defending midfielder but he is good in that he effortlessly changes positions. I will not pick him just because he plays in Zimbabwe. He must fight for his position, otherwise, I am impressed with his work rate and ball distribution,” he said.

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