The Malawian sisters lighting up China
Malawi internationals Tabitha and Temwa Chawinga are sisters
They made their mark in Sweden and are now thriving in China
Temwa made history by firing Wuhan to maiden Super League title
Sibling rivalry came to the fore when Wuhan Jianghan University competed against Jiangsu Suning in Sunday's Chinese Women's Super League title-decider.
The players drawing most attention from media and fans alike were two Malawian sisters. Tabitha Chawinga, at 24, is the elder of the two. She is Jiangsu's top scorer with seven goals scored across the season. Having fired Jiangsu to the title and finished as the Chinese league's Golden Boot winner and Player of the Year in 2019, Tabitha had her sights firmly fixed on a successful championship defence.
The younger sister, 22-year-old Temwa, is an emerging star. She moved to China PR to join Wuhan at the start of this year after a successful two-year spell in Sweden. Despite a lengthy lay-off due to the Covid-19 lockdown, Temwa showed that she’d lost none of her scoring knack when the league kicked off in August, bagging eight goals to propel Wuhan to the top of the table.
The stage was therefore set for a showdown between two of China’s top sides – and their star strikers. And it was Temwa who struck first, lobbing the keeper to put Wuhan ahead on 27 minutes. That set the tone, and while Tabitha responded soon after by earning a penalty for Jiangsu, she could only look on as a team-mate shot wide from the spot.
Wuhan never looked back. Two more strikes, plus an own goal in the second half, took them to an impressive 4-0 win and secured the club’s maiden Women's Super League title.
"Our team put in a brilliant performance," a jubilant Temwa told FIFA.com after the celebrations had subsided. "I may have scored the opening goal but I owe thanks to my team-mates. I wouldn't have played so well had it not been for their strong support."
"Our rivals also played well, and my sister demonstrated her talent,” she added. “She has been my role model."
Tabitha’s influence is certainly clear in the way Temwa has followed in her footsteps. The sisters, two of the family’s five daughters, inherited their passion for football from their father.
As children they played football with local boys and Tabitha was the first to make steps towards a professional career when she signed for Lilongwe side DD Sunshine at the age of 13. But she didn’t leave her sister behind, and it was on her recommendation that the club signed Temwa in 2013.
"I did this not because she is my sister, but because I know her potential" Tabitha told FIFA.com. "I wanted Temwa to try her luck with a big club where she could improve, both mentally and technically."
Tabitha again led the way when she moved to Sweden to join third-tier Krokom/Dvarsatts IF in 2014, becoming the first Malawian female to play for a European club in the process. A move to second-division side Kvarnsvedens IK followed the year after and she scored 43 times in her first season as her team went up to the top flight as champions.
Such feats helped earn her a move to China in 2017, and with her Swedish club manager desperately seeking a high-calibre replacement, Tabitha knew just who to recommend.
"I knew Temwa was capable of playing for a big club. And we are similar in many ways, in terms of our character and technique," she said.
Temwa’s career duly took off with Kvarnsvedens. She scored an incredible 55 goals in just 57 appearances across two seasons before, once again, following in her sister’s footsteps by moving to China.
"I am a young player and I wanted make further progress in a strong Asian league,” Temwa explained. “That was why I moved to China.”
Dreaming big with Malawi
The emergence of the Chawinga sisters has also raised hopes of a bright future for Malawi, who have thus far made little impression on the international scene. Their potential at that level was underlined in the 2020 CAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament, when Tabitha and Temwa scored ten times between them over two legs to helping Malawi to an 14-1 aggregate victory over Mozambique.
"We had a good campaign in the first round. Although we failed to progress (losing to Kenya in the second round), we made a breakthrough," said Temwa.
Tabitha, as the national team’s captain, also accentuated the positive. "It was our first time to participate in Olympic qualifying and the tournament gave us precious international experience," she said. "Malawi have never qualified for the Women's World Cup but that competition means a lot for us. It represents our hopes and, if all of us keep working hard, we can reach the level needed and realise our dreams."