Coach DeKlerk Msakakuona has said the change in format at the Cosafa Under-17 following disqualification of four teams for age-cheating has increased Malawi’s chances of qualifying for the 2021 Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations.
The organisers of the competition have changed the format from group to round robin format which will see Malawi facing South Africa this afternoon.
Botswana, Comoros Islands, e-Swatini (formerly Swaziland) and Zimbabwe were on Friday disqualified from the competition after at least one player failed the Magnetic Resonance Imaging.
A statement from Cosafa said the competition would restart today with four remaining teams—Malawi, Zambia, South Africa and Angola—on round robin format.
Commenting on the changes Msakakuona said: “We are starting afresh. We need a good win against South Africa. If we can win at least two games from the three, definitely it means we will be able to play in the final and we will have qualified for the Afcon final,” he said.
But soccer analyst George Chiusiwa observed that the resetting of the competition is an opportunity to expose the players.
He said: “With a total of five games to play during the round robin format the Malawi coach has the opportunity to try a number of players during the tournament. Essentially, this means providing the players with a bigger platform of international football exposure for proper growth and development. This is good for the sake of player development at that level. A huge opportunity for the boys.
“While the coach Msakakuona focuses on making it to the continental showpiece, he should also not lose sight of the need to develop the players, hence he doesn’t need to give any unnecessary pressure to the boys now that there are increased chances of the team’s playing at the continental competition. We are at the Cosafa competition to compete but with the ultimate aim of developing the young players.”
Soccer analyst Charles Nyirenda commended Football Association of Malawi (FAM) for weeding out over-aged players before the tournament.
He said: “I have condemned age cheating for a long time. And Malawi is lucky because they tested the players and chucked out a third of the squad before leaving.
“Otherwise, we could also have been embarrassed. All the countries that rely on age cheating to succeed are pathetic. Proper youth soccer development does not work that way. I hope the ones tossed out will learn lessons from the humiliation and our own Association must always desist from taking over aged players to represent us at junior tournaments. I commend Cosafa for being firm with cheaters.”
Cosafa said the four teams have been sent back home based on the rules and regulations of the competition articles 8.5 and 8.6.
“An age eligibility test will be obligatory and will be performed on all participating players upon arrival in the Host City. The test will be performed by the CAF Medical Services in accordance with the protocol of the F-Marc in a health facility duly accredited in the hosting country using an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) apparatus.
“In the event that a participating team has one or more players who do not pass the MRI test for eligibility, then the applicable team will be disqualified and will have to return home as soon as is practically possible. MRI scans are used across the world to determine whether players are eligible for Under-17 competitions in particular.
Doctors look for bone fusions in the human wrist, which are highly unlikely to occur before the age of 17, with a more than 99 percent accuracy rate.”