A lifetime opportunity awaits the Malawi Under 20 national football team, to travel to Barcelona, Spain for training, if they qualify for the finals of the Under 20 Africa Cup of Nations.
This was revealed by Football Association of Malawi (FAM) President Walter Nyamilandu.
Nyamilandu broke the news at Chileka Airport on Tuesday, as the Junior Flames were accorded a heroes’ welcome on their return from Angola, where they overturned the tables with a stunning 1-4 victory, to leave the hosts astonished and dumped out of the competition.
Malawi lost the first leg 2-1 at the Bingu National Stadium some two weeks ago.
South Africa now stands between Malawi and a place at the continental showpiece in Niger next year.
Minister of Sports Francis Kasaila led the welcoming party, accompanied by the Board Chairman of the Malawi National Council of Sports James Chuma and Deputy Mayor for Blantyre City Joseph Makwinja.
The team touched down at exactly 3 o’clock in the afternoon to the chanting of about fifty supporters who had travelled to the airport to welcome the players.
There was a 30 minute ceremony at the airport where speeches were made.
Kasaila hailed the lads for the victory which came when the odds were heavily stack against them.
“Most of us did not give them a chance, but the boys have surprised us all. As government we are very pleased with this result. We think we are doing the right thing in supporting junior teams so that we build a strong senior national team for the future, and therefore we promise to support this team all the way. When we pump resources into football, we get criticised by some people, but results like these vindicate us and we promise to keep supporting football with as much as we can,” said Kasaila who disclosed that he postponed his trip to Lilongwe on the day to welcome the team.
The Sports Minister further assured the team of an audience with the State President Peter Mutharika should they beat South Africa to book the ticket to Niger.
He hoped that the prospect of a meeting with the president would serve as motivation.
Nyamilandu who was over the moon and danced with the team, praised the boys and said they deserved such a rapturous welcome to motivate them for the task ahead.
“These boys have the heart of a lion, which other national teams should emulate. It’s not easy to not just beat but humiliate a team 1-4 at their own backyard. People gave them no chance but they did it, so we wanted to show them that they didn’t die for the nation for nothing, so that they can go an extra mile in the next round,” said Nyamilandu.
On the promised trip to Barcelona, the President said: “What we want is that the boys should be exposed and find contracts in Europe. So if they qualify for the finals, we will definitely send the team to Spain to expose them to the European market.”
Nyamilandu then disclosed that starting from the team’s victory over Swaziland in the previous round, FAM hiked the players’ game bonuses.
“We raised the bonuses from K15,000 to K100,000 each, to be at par with the senior team, as one way of motivating them and its working well.”
In his remarks, head coach for the team Meke Mwase was grateful to the Sports Minister and FAM, for the heroes’ welcome.
He said his boys now feel further encouraged by Tuesday’s scenes to conquer The Amajita in July.
Mwase’ captain Charles Thom echoed his mentor’ sentiments on the feel good factor brought about by the special welcome.
The team was driven from the airport under police escort, in a convoy which had more than ten vehicles.
Later in the evening, they were treated to a dinner at the Chiwembe Hotel.