Hosts Eswatini and Malawi braved out a non-scoring stalemate in their Total African Nations Championship (CHAN) 2020 qualifier first round first leg played at Mavuso Sports Centre on Saturday afternoon.
This left the second leg set for Malawi on the 10th of May to settle matters on who gets the second round date against Angola who received an opening round bye together with other South Zone region heavyweights.
It was the success starved home side that carved the open the visitors' backline but the Kostadin Papic's charges failed to find the decisive goal that would have handed them an advantage going into the second leg in Malawi in a fortnight but still the good show on the park raised optimism.
Eswatini will have to eke out an early away goal to settle their illustrious opponents and hopefully the workhorse attacking midfielder Njabulo Ndlovu will be at equal or more best he was at Mavuso.
Malawi had opened the tie well, buoyed by a strong crowd of about 100 supporters who descended at the venue with a lot of noise.
In the 11th minute, Eswatini recovered with Ndlovu turning swiftly inside the box after a downward header by Siboniso Ngwenya, but Malawi's goal-keeper Ernest Kabhobwe was alert to the danger as latched onto the shot before it sneaked into the top corner.
A good cross to Sandile Gamedze almost led to the opening goal in the 35th minute but the striker forced off a life-saving effort from Kabhobwe smothering from a one on one situation that literally pulled out a rabbit from the Meck Mwase coached lads.
From the breather, Sifiso Matse set loose Ndlovu but Kabhobwe was equal to the ask reasonably thwarting what seemed like imminent danger and moments later it was the visitors turn to probe with Khuda Ike Myaba's flicked header falling on the feet of Chiukepo Msowoya, whose bicycle kick missed the target by a few inches.
Gunslinger Sabelo took his turn in the 54th minute and saw did Gamedze but still it was all futile an exercise.
Eswatini mentor Papic observed improvement from his charges and stated that they would not sit back during the second leg but would attack in search of the winning goal.
"The good thing is that the performance of the team has improved a lot. I am not happy that we failed to score a goal despite creating numerous chances, but you could see that we are getting somewhere," he said.
"We suffered from lack of confidence in the first half when we gave away too many balls. It was better in the second half, and hopefully we keep on pressing for the second game to get the goal that we need," he said.
Malawi's coach, Mwase said his team came out with a good result at the end of a tough, yet entertaining match. He said he was happy with his team's performance, including that of his youngsters, as the game was not easy.
"We had chances tom score but came up short. However, I am pleased with the result and we will now focus on preparations for the second leg," he said.
Elsewhere in Lobatse, Botswana humbled Seychelles 2-0 thanks to second half efforts from Thatayaone Ditlhokwe and Segolame Boy.
20.04.2019 Manzini Eswatini 0-0 Malawi
20.04.2019 Lobatse Botswana 2-0 Seychelles