Malawi is the only team yet to name the final squad for the Council for Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Under-17 the country will host from October 11 to 20.
Some of the 10 countries expected to participate started arriving on Tuesday, but coach Deklerk Msakakuona played down delays to name his final squad, saying, as hosts, there is no need to be in a hurry.
The Under-17 national team coach made the statement after being asked why Malawi, which is expected to face South Africa this Saturday in their opener at Mpira Stadium in Blantyre, is yet to name final squad ahead of the 10-team competition.
However, Msakakuona said he will announce his final 20-player squad after their training sessions this afternoon.
“Indeed, the other teams needed to announce their final squads by now because they are travelling. But for Malawi, there is no need to panic as we are at home,” he said.
The coach also said they are not face a race against time to fill the gaps left by the recent expulsion of 12 players that were deemed over-aged from the 28-player provisional squad following Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests.
“We already had a back-up plan in place as no player has come outside the box. We just replaced those that failed the tests with 10 players that were released from the initial 40-player squad,” he said.
“Mind you, all the players that are in camp were part of the squad at Feassa [Federation of East African Secondary Schools Associations] Tournament in Arusha, Tanzania, two months ago. What I can say is that we are ready for battle.”
But soccer analyst George Kaudza Masina yesterday said Malawi’s delay in naming the final squad shows that the team is not well-prepared.
“The technical panel has been thrown off balance by the fact that a good number of the team’s key players were rendered ineligible after failing the MRI tests,” he said.”
Meanwhile, participating teams and officials have started arriving in the country ahead of the tournament’s kick-off this Friday.
Comoros, who are taking part in the tournament for the first time, were the first team to arrive through Chileka International Airport in Blantyre yesterday while Lesotho and Angola are expected to arrive this afternoon through Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) competitions and communications director Gomezgani Zakazaka yesterday said Mozambique are travelling by road from Tete and will also arrive today through the Mwanza Border.
South Africa will come in two groups with the first arriving this afternoon and the other tomorrow while Zambia will also arrive this afternoon and e-Swatini will jet-in tomorrow.
Zakazaka said Cosafa officials started arriving on Saturday. deputy general secretary and competition manager Suzgo Nyirenda arrived on Monday.
The referees for the tournament arrived on Saturday and have, since Sunday, been attending a pre-tournament referees’ course, which ends tomorrow.
Malawi are in Group A with South Africa, Zambia and e-Swatini. Group B has Lesotho, Comoros Angola and Mozambique.
Lesotho will face Comoros in the opening fixture at the Mpira Stadium this Friday before Angola take on Mozambique . The official opening ceremony will be at the same venue on Saturday as Eswatini play Zambia in a Group B opener at 11am before Malawi face South Africa at 2pm.