Malawi have begun their preparations for the COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship under the watchful eye of coach Deklerk Nsakakuona as they build towards the tournament in South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Bay from November 19-29.
An initial group of 44 boys are hoping to impress, with that group being cut down to 30 for the next phase of preparations that begin in Lilongwe on Sunday.
“The players are in good shape fitness wise and it shows that they have been training on their own. But they are lacking coordination,” Nsakakuona said. “We don’t have enough time but we will try to squeeze our program to ensure we get them in shape by the time we will be going to the tournament.”, he said.
The Junior Flames are in Group B alongside Zambia, Botswana and Comoros, and will hope to reach the final this year, which will also cement their place in the 2021 Africa Under-17 Cup of Nations in Morocco.
The COSAFA event serves as a zonal qualifier for the continental showpiece and that is a major prize for the teams to focus on, over and above the trophy.
Malawi have appeared in all but one of the eight previous COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships played and were winners in 2001 as they lifted the trophy on home soil.
Their star of that competition was Robert Ng’ambi, who would go on to have a superb career in South Africa and with the Malawi senior national team.
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.
It was a similar story in 2017 when they won all their group games with victories over Botswana (2-0), Zimbabwe (5-0) and Mauritius (2-0), but then lost 2-0 to Zambia in the Last 4. They again won bronze though with a 2-1 win over South Africa.
Malawi beat Zimbabwe (5-0) and Eswatini (1-0) in the pool stages in 2018, but a 1-0 loss to eventual champions Angola meant they did not make the semifinals.
They also disappointed in 2019, despite a 3-0 victory over South Africa in their opener. The side then lost to Eswatini (2-1) and Zambia (3-2) to exit in the first round.
Malawi have made one appearance at the African Under-17 Championships, which saw them finish fourth in 2009.
That qualified them for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup that year, where they lost all three of their games.