Africa-Press – Malawi. Malawi Under-17 National Football Team, the Junior Flames, have been drawn in Group B of the 2020 Region 5 Youth Games slated for November 28 to December 8 in Maseru, Lesotho.
This is the third time for Cosafa to make changes to the fixtures of the tournament. The junior Flames are now in Group B alongside Angola, Botswana and Seychelles. For the first time in three years, Malawi has avoided Zambia in the group stages. Group A comprises Zambia, eSwatini, Zimbabwe and hosts Lesotho.
Cosafa announced on Monday that following the withdrawal of holders South Africa, Mauritius and Madagascar, the boys’ tournament will have eight teams, split into two groups comprising four teams each.
Initially, the junior Flames were in Group C alongside neighbours Zambia and Seychelles in a re-draw which took place last month. The junior Flames will start the Cosafa Cup campaign against Seychelles at Setsoto Stadium on November 30 before meeting Botswana on December 2 at the same venue.
Malawi will wrap up the group stage campaign against Angola on December 5. Flames Under-17 Coach Deklerk Msakakuona was not readily available for a comment Tuesday.
However, after the earlier draw, Msakakuona said there was no need to put too much pressure on the youngsters. “We are ready to face any team but we just need to prepare well,” he said.
Msakakuona will travel with a group of new players except three who participated in the 2020 edition in South Africa. Football Association of Malawi (Fam) Competitions and Communications Director Gomezgani Zakazaka said it was a blessing in disguise.
“This is an opportunity for the players as they will play more games. It is our hope that we will do well this time,” he said. The junior Flames are currently in camp at Malawi National Council of Sports (MNCS) hostel in Blantyre ahead of the games.
The council’s public relations and communications officer Edgar Ntulumbwa said the junior Flames were expected to leave for Lesotho on Saturday. Last year, Malawi finished last in a tournament which had four teams only.
Destombes said it was a setback that some countries pulled out of the event. “We are obviously disappointed to have lost these three countries for the two events, but these are the realities of the world we live in right now,” Cosafa General Secretary Sue Destombes said.
Holders South Africa, Mauritius and Madagascar withdrew from the tournament due to effects of the Covid pandemic. According to Cosafa, South Africa pulled out of the competition due to late return of amateur football in the country in October, which made it difficult for the coaches to scout players for the tournament. Both Mauritius and Madagascar will not be able to travel due to Covid travel restrictions.