What Malawi Under-17 national football team has done in claiming the silver medal at the 2017 Confederation of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) in Mauritius is something we should all be proud of and this is team should surely be meticulously nurtured.
The future of the senior team is in these players, who have gained so much experience that by the time they reach the top, we shall have a very strong Flames — but we have to continue with the momentum.
Look at the results — they beat Zimbabwe 5-0, Botswana 2-0, the hosts Mauritius 2-0 and succumbed to Zambia 0-2 in the semi-final before beating South Africa 2-1 in the third-place play-offs to win the silver.
In my opinion, the rankings from this tournament should be Zambia first and Malawi second because the junior Flames managed to beat the hosts in group stages, who went on to beat South Africa to reach the final.
The junior Flames were beaten by the eventual champions, Zambia while Zambia saw off Mauritius 3-0 to lift the cup and the junior Flames beat South Africa. That, to me, makes the junior Flames rank second to Zambia.
I doff my hat off to the junior Flames for this achievement and to all the technical panel for picking up the best players. They should continue poaching for more players to replace these gallant fighters once they move on to the next stage — the Under-20.
I plead that the momentum for the current Under-17 should continue and should be registered for the next Caf and Fifa Under-17 championship and to strengthen the team further they should be accorded the chance in strength testing matches.
Usually, it’s only the senior Flames who are given the chance to play strength testing matches while the junior teams only spar against top TNM Super League teams or against select sides. No — let’s go a mile further and arrange an international sparring partner.
We can start with the Under-17 champions Zambia by inviting them here at Bingu National Stadium for a repeat to see what really went wrong. Give us the doubting Thomases that Zambia was a better team against Malawi in Mauritius by arranging that friendly here and again in Zambia so that out of the three games — starting with the semi-final in Mauritius — can be used to see who is better.
That can be an interesting series — we can call it the Malawi/Zambia Test Series starting with the Mauritius Cosafa semi-final.
In between that test series, the powers that be should arrange other friendlies against either from the Cosafa region or beyond.
I know that it’s costly but with proper planning and strong marketing campaign that the Minister of Sports should take an active part — yes, he should earn his money — this is possible.
Football is never cheap, that is why we scorn the technocrats in the Ministry of Finance when they trim the budget for football in particular and sports in general.
We treat their thinking with disdain because they regard sports as a pastime and not that it’s a serious business.
We shouldn’t even be ashamed of the Flames being beaten by teams they found easy prey on such as Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius and others less fancied teams like the Comoros and Madagascar because these countries invested heavily in their team through junior teams.
The players went through a proper transition process from Under-17, 20, 23 and graduated slowly into their senior sides. But we throw our excellent talent into the senior team much too early.
I would be a very happy man to hear that Football Association of Malawi (Fam), in conjuction with the Sports Minister, are on the campaign to fund-raise so that the junior Flames should play international friendlies.
Use the Minister for him to twist the arms of prospective sponsors. He has that political muscle that the corporate world and other influential business people can be influenced with.
Congrats to the junior Flames — you made us very proud.