BY STEVEN WYSON
Junior Flames on Saturday rose from a slow start in their Group A opener of the Cosafa Under-17 Youth Championship to thrash South Africa’s Amajimbos 3-0 at Mpira Stadium in Blantyre.
This means they will make the semi-final grade with a game to spare as either group leaders or second-best if they win their second match tomorrow at the same venue against e-Swatini, who suffered 6-0 defeat at the hands of Zambia on Saturday.
Prior to the match, Under-17 coach Deklerk Msakakuona described South Africa as among their toughest opponents in the group, but his statement turned out to be mere compliments as Mike Thom’s first-half strike and Dave Tobias’ second-half brace gave Malawi an emphatic victory in front of a cheerful home-crowd.
Thom drew first blood in extra-time of the first-half when he connected home Chikumbutso Salima’s cross from the right flank.
Tobias made it 2-0 nine minutes into the second-half with a header, before making a final flourish in the 58th minute with a short-range strike after the Amajimbos defenders failed to clear their lines.
No wonder he was named Man-of-the-match.
Salima could have made it worse for the visitors 10 minutes to full-time had his thunderbolt not bounced off the crossbar. He took it upon himself to dance his way through a forest of defenders in the box, but his final shot could not cross the goal line.
Malawi were reduced to 10 players after Andrew Lameck was given marching orders a minute to time following a second bookable offence for a crude tackle on Amajimbos striker, but it was already too late for South Africa to take advantage and come back into the game.
Msakakuona described the win as a perfect start to their bid of the 2001 Malawi squad that won the championship as hosts.
“It feels great to start with a win and this has given us confidence to fight to the end. In the first half, we missed a lot of chances as our players were naive being their first match of the tournament,” he said.
Amajimbos interim coach Vela Khumalo expressed disappointment with their defeat, but he was hopeful of improving their performance in their next games.
“This was not the best way to start a competition. However, the defeat was understandable because some of our players had fatigue after arriving a bit late for the tournament. We hope to improve in our next match,” he said.