By Phillip Pasula
MZUZU-(MaraviPost)-The Malawi National Football Team failed to reach the finals of the 2023 HollywoodBets Cosafa Cup final following a painful defeat in post-match penalties against Lesotho at King Zwelithini Stadium in Durban, South Africa on Friday.
The Flames settled early into the match knocking at Lesotho’s goal in the very first minute.
They looked so composed on the ball and the passing and attack were just excellent, much to the delight of a handful of Malawian fans that were present at the stadium.
But the vocal Malawian supporters were disappointed just after 17 minutes when Lesotho’s Mokhachane broke through on the right flank and his decent cross into the 18-meter box found Jane Thaba-Ntso, who alone, unmarked, tapped the ball into the net to give Lesotho a 1 nil lead.
The Flames kept their composure in building up attacks with beautiful exchange passes from one player to another and 8 minutes later, a powerful shot from Lanjesi Nkhoma was handled in the 18-meter box by Matlomelo Mkwanazi and the referee had no option but to point to the penalty spot before showing him a yellow card.
Chawanangwa Kaonga stepped up to take the spot kick after 25 minutes and made no mistake but to send goalkeeper Moerane the wrong way, to give Malawians the much-needed equaliser.
Mkwanazi was red-carded in the 44th minute after a second yellow card following his crude tackle on the same Lanjesi Nkhoma that forced him to handle the ball for a penalty.
This looked to be advantageous for The Flames as they went for recess at 1-1.
The intention for Lesotho in the second half was clear as they sat back with an aim to settle for a draw and force post-match penalties.
In the 56th minute, Lanjesi Nkhoma did excellent spade work on the left before laying the piece of leather for Chawanangwa Kaonga who, alone unmarked, shot wide to the dismay of Malawian supporters.
It was then clear that the game was going into penalties and in the 88th minute, Flames coach Patrick Mabedi rested goalkeeper Brighton Munthali for debutant Innocent Nyasulu hoping he would at least save a penalty kick.
90 plus added minutes remained elusive and the qualifying team into the finals had to be decided on penalties.
Captain Stanley Sanudi was the first to take a penalty which was saved by goalkeeper Moerane.
Two more penalty kicks by Chimwemwe Idana and Patrick Macheso were also saved by the Lesotho goalie.
Lesotho scored all their first three penalty kicks (the third one taken by their goalkeeper Moerane) and that is how they progressed to the finals.
They will meet Zambia in the finals on Sunday who have beaten South Africa by 2 goals to 1.
Chimwemwe Idana was however named player of the match and he said the boys tried their best but it did not work.
“It wasn’t our day. We lost the match but we tried our best. We didn’t find a goal in the second half. It’s okay. Next time we will do better,” he said.
Coach Patrick Mabedi said his charges could not penetrate the Lesotho defense in the second half.
Said Mabedi: ”I have to give credit to my players. They did their best and we struggled to penetrate Lesotho’s defence as they dug deep. We had opportunities too but we missed them.
“We were not composed enough. Sometimes you need to be patient instead of rushing. But I mean when it’s not your day, it’s not your day.”
The winning Lesotho coach, Leslie Notsi, said he knew what it took to win against Malawi.
“We came here to win the game. Yes, we had respect to Malawi but we knew we got what it takes to be victorious today.
“We needed to show character even after the red card. We are ready for the final,” said Notsi.
Malawi will play against South Africa to decide who finishes third.