Malawi have appeared in all but one of the previous nine versions of the TotalEnergies U-17 Africa Cup of Nations | COSAFA Qualifier and were winners in 2001 as they lifted the trophy on home soil, something they are desperate to repeat this time round.
They have generally been consistent performers over the past few decades, and recently have a few bronze medals to show for their efforts, proving they are always consistent and tough team to beat.
This time they have been drawn alongside Botswana and Namibia in Group A. The top team in each of the three pools advances to the semifinals, along with the best-placed runner-up.
There is, of course, an additional carrot added this term outside of the glory of being named regional champions. The two finalists will qualify for the TotalEnergies U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Algeria next year.
“It’s an interesting draw, we need to plan well and bring the boys together in good time to prepare them well physically and psychologically,” long-standing Malawi coach DeKlerk Msakakuona says.
“Malawi does sometimes do well in these age-group tournaments, so we must prepare well and plan well to do so this time. It has been 20 years now since Malawi won this championship and we have to prepare well for these games.
“The boys are there to showcase their skills and prove a point by winning, which means you put yourself on the market (for a club move).”
Msakakuona says he expects the competition to be fierce given what is at stake.
“All the nine teams are here to be in the final and qualify for the African youth championship. Malawi as well, we have a target as a team to be in the last two. But we have to win games.
“The boys are going to give us good football. We have had two camps already and the third one is coming on Monday (November 7). We know we will be ready when the tournament kicks off.”
Malawi’s star of that 2001 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 ineligible 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.
They were one of only four teams to compete in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and managed just a point in the group stages with a 2-2 draw against hosts South Africa.
They then lost to Zambia (6-2) and Angola (7-1), before losing the Angolans again (2-1) in the third-place play-off.
The team finished fourth in Lesotho last year, coming through their pool with a draw against Botswana (1-1) and a loss to Angola (4-2). They then lost to Zambia (3-1) in the semifinals, but thumped Eswatini 4-0 in the bronze-medal match.
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.
Last five tournament finishes:
2017 – Third
2018 – Group Stages
2019 – Group Stages
2020 – Fourth
2021 – Third