Malawi coach DeKlerk Msakakuona says he expects his side to challenge for the gold medal when the country hosts the COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships in Blantyre from October 11-20.
Malawi won the regional title the last time they hosted the event in 2001, beating South Africa 3-0 in the decider in a competition where the likes of Robert Ng’ambi shone brightly.
Msakakuona will be in charge of the side for the third year running, leading the team to bronze in 2017. They failed to make it out of the pool stages last year despite wins over Zimbabwe (5-0) and Eswatini (1-0).
He says that as the host nation, they should be challenging for top honours despite being drawn in a tough pool that includes South Africa, Zambia and Botswana, all very challenging opponents.
“It is a tough one but as hosts we need to rise above this and ensure that we make it to the semi-finals and finals to win the championship,” Msakakuona said.
Malawi have appeared in all but one of the seven previous COSAFA Under-17 Championships played and were winners in 2001 as they lifted the trophy on home soil.
They breezed through their group on that occasion with wins over Botswana (2-0) and Mauritius (4-0), before defeating Zambia 5-4 in the semifinals.
That set up a decider with South Africa and Malawi prevailed with a comfortable 3-0 scoreline to lift the trophy.
They had missed out on a semifinal place in 1994 as they beat Namibia 4-0 and drew with Eswatini (1-1), but lost to Zambia (0-3) and South Africa (0-4).
They skipped the 2002 tournament and reached the semifinals again in 2007. A 6-1 hammering of Botswana was followed by a 1-1 draw with Zambia in the pool stages, before they beat Lesotho (4-0) to book their semifinal place.
There they lost 1-0 to South Africa, and by the same scoreline to Zambia in the bronze-medal match.
Malawi were semifinalists once more in 2016, beating Madagascar (2-1) and Kenya (5-0) in the pool stages. Their result against Zambia (0-3) was annulled after the latter were found guilty of fielding two over-age players.
They were beaten by Namibia on penalties in the semifinals after a 1-1 draw, but did pick up the bronze with a 2-0 win over Kenya.