It was a life time opportunity.
A chance that no any other local national football team has had in over decades.
But the Malawi under 20 unbelievably blew it.
“If you beat South Africa on 21 July and qualify for Niger 2019 Under 20 Africa Cup of Nations, we will send you to Barcelona, Spain for camping.”
That was the promise, coming in a familiar commanding voice of Walter Nyamilandu, President for the Football Association of Malawi (FAM), at the Chileka airport in Blantyre, on 22 May this year, upon the arrival of the under 20 team from Angola where they defied all odds to wing into the final qualifying round of the competition with a stunning 1-4 victory after losing the first leg 1-2 at home a week earlier.
One would be forgiven for taking the promise lightly, if it came from somebody within FAM’ lower ranks.
But here was the top dog himself, completely overwhelmed with joy as he danced with the boys in some of their pre/post-match rallying chants at the airport lounge.
When it comes to Malawi football, this is the man who calls the shots. He did not lie. He meant every word in his promise.
And the lads were fired up, based on the look on their faces as Nyamilandu made his compelling speech, with Sports Minister Francis Kasaila looking on.
And Kasaila added the cherry on the cake, by promising the team an audience with the country’s head of state, should they overcome the Amajita.
Catalonia beckoning, an aura of royalty at the state house within touching distance, game bonus raised from K15,000 to K100,000 and a friendly away to Zambia in their preparations.
What else is motivation if this wasn’t? A goalless draw in South Africa a week earlier had set the tone for what many fans anticipated to be a day of grand conquest for the Junior Flames.
Ignored calls were made to shift a Super league top of the table clash between Silver Strikers and Nyasa Big Bullets on the same day, within a few kilometres, just to accord this duel all the significance it merited.
No doubt. This was Malawi’s blockbuster showdown on the day.
With all students at the age of twenty and below granted free entry to the Bingu National stadium, and a Lilongwe based firm Aspire Trading Company pledging K600,000 to the team upon a win just on the eve of match day, the scene was perfectly set.
This was a day that would, for once in so many years, awaken Malawi’s gods of soccer and make them smile a little.
But it was never meant to be. In probably their most important outing of their lives, the boys terribly froze, in a 0-2 reverse to exit the competition 2-0 on aggregate.
What set out to be a gigantic afternoon in Malawi football, turned into a sombre day for the football enthusiasts.
All hope was gone. But wait a minute… this was a team which throughout its three qualifying rounds had not won at home, drawing 0-0 with Swaziland and losing 1-2 to Angola. Did we perhaps expect too much from them? Should we have seen this coming?
Supported by senior national mentor RVG, Meke Mwase and his backroom staff thought they had the best tactics in place.
But the Amajita were a team on a serious mission and had their game plan spot on and well executed.
They allowed Malawi plenty of ball possession and kept their shape without being heavily troubled.
When they attacked on the break, they did it with pace, power and precision.
No wonder they got their reward with goals from Kobamelo Kodisang and Thabiso Monyane coming on either side of half time.
You can easily guess what was running through the minds of the home team as the clock ticked. Barcelona, Niger, state house and fat allowances.
But all was bottled in 90 agonising minutes as the brave boys huffed and puffed to no avail.
Dreams of a pilgrimage to the land where world’s football great Lionel Messi continues to reign as a semi-god battered and scuppered as they vanished in thin air.
The raging fire inside a promising generation of young footballers was extinguished mercilessly.
The hopes of a soccer – mad nation, so desperate for anything closer to success, dashed in the most heart-breaking fashion.
No state house.