Salima Secondary School football team is confident of doing well at the inaugural CAF Africa Schools Championship despite having only a week of preparations.
The team’s coach Joseph Kaunda said this yesterday as the side, comprising 15 players and five officials, flew to Durban, South Africa ahead of the competition which runs from tomorrow to Saturday.
Initially, Salima did not qualify for the continental championship after finishing as runners-up to South Africa’s Clapham High School during the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Zone qualifying tournament in Lilongwe last year as only winners made the grade.
However, the team later qualified after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) clarified that Clapham automatically made the grade as hosts following the recent shifting of the host country from Egypt to South Africa. This means Salima and Clapham will represent the Cosafa bloc in the boys section.
Said Kaunda: “We were notified late about our qualification and we camped only for a week. However, the overwhelming support we have enjoyed from the government and Football Association of Malawi [FAM] has boosted our confidence and, in return, we will strive to make the country proud.”
The team’s captain Ishmael Bwanali said they are ready for the tournament after a week-long camping at Dzenza Secondary School in Lilongwe.
He said: “As a school team, we always play together and we know each other well. It has not been a challenge for our coach to build combinations and coordination despite the short notice about our qualification.
“After finishing as runners-up during the qualifiers, we would like to go an extra mile at the finals.”
On his part, FAM technical officer for the Central Region McWilliams Nkunika said: “The players are not under pressure to deliver success. The only thing we have reminded them about is that they will represent the Cosafa bloc and they have to show the world that there is football in Malawi.”
Meanwhile, team leader Blackson Malamula, who is also Ministry of Education sports desk officer and Malawi Schools Sports Association president, said government has motivated the team by buying them boots, sneakers, bags and slip-ons.
During the Cosafa qualifiers, Salima Secondary earned four points from their two pool games before thumping IQRA School from Comoros 4-0 in the semi-finals, with Bwanali scoring all the goals to emerge as the golden boot winner. They lost 1-0 to Clapham in the final.
At continental level, the champions will take home $300 000 (about K310.8 million). Runners-up will receive $200 000 (about K207.2 million) while third-placed team will get $150 000 (about K155.4 million).
Seven teams will compete in the boys section and the same number in the girls division.
The tournament will see eight players on each side and the games being played on a half-pitch. The goals are also a bit smaller than usual with games lasting 40 minutes and having a 10-minute break.
“The teams can use unlimited substitutes and keep players rolling on and off as they choose,” the website explains.
CAF president Patrice Motsepe is sponsoring the competition through his Motsepe Foundation to the tune of R181 700 000 (about K10.72 billion).