No one listens to ‘we have played well’ song at AFCON

Malawi vs Guinea

Covid had ravaged the Malawi team going into Monday evening’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) contest, but that did little to douse the fire in the Flames who matched Guinea pound-by-pound.

Never mind that caretaker coach Mario Marinica watched proceedings on the ‘tely’ from his hotel room after testing positive for COVID-19, just like was the case with defenders Stanley Sanudi, midfielders Robin Ngalande, Chikoti Chirwa and  striker Frank 'Gabadinho' Mhango.

In this match, the Flames showed no signs of depletion as they came out firing on all cylinders at Bafoussam Omnisport Stadium in this Group B match.

So daring were Malawi, under the temporary charge of Meck Mwase who stood in for his Romanian boss, they started with an offensive 3-5-2 formation.

Endless running striker Khuda Muyaba played alongside Yamikani Chester upfront. Fransisco Madinga did right wingback duties, Peter Banda played off the right flank with Micium Mhone on the opposite end. John Banda operated in a deep lying midfield role to add defensive numbers while Chimwemwe Idana also helped out with marking.

When play started, the Flames gave it their all, running, pressing high up the pitch and pumping balls quickly from defence to the frontline. The only setback with such style of play was that the Flames lacked the numbers let alone the heights upfront to keep the ball. 

The build-ups from the back of Mwase era had been replaced by this fast and furious direct football that should have paid dividends in the opening 16 minutes.
However, Guinea’s Issiaga Sylla’s 36th minute strike undid all the hard work for the Flames.

Guinea, who had been patient and calm refusing to hurry up things, constructed the goal from nothing when captain Naiby Keita finally found his passing range.
The Liverpool midfielder sent a diagonal ball wide on the left where Jose Fote, in return, cutback across the goalmouth for Sylla to slide the ball past goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe at the near-post. 

Simple but efficient football for Guinea.
In the end, for all the gallons of sweat the Flames broke, at the end of the 90 minutes, the scoreboard unforgivingly read: Guinea 1 Malawi 0.

Such a scoreline does not tell the whole story that for all the maximum points they collected, the fancied Guinea had only three shots on target out of their 14 total attempts.

For the zero-point collected, the result does little to offer comfort to the Flames when you consider that they registered six out of nine shots on target.

Among those six attempts, Chester should have scored twice inside the opening 16 minutes when he did everything right, pressing and intercepting the ball only to fail to shoot on target—literally. Not once but twice.

In the second half, Malawi earned another glorious scoring opportunity but when a low ball came at the near post, Khuda Muyaba missed it while trying to flick it. 
The ball rebounded onto the path of Micium Mhone who ended up sending it over the bar when all he needed was placement in the 52nd minute.

Madinga followed suit, finding space on the edge of the box only to fire his shot into the terraces.

That proved to be Malawi’s clear chance. They now meet Zimbabwe on January 14 before winding up against Senegal on January 18.

It is not completely doom and gloom for Malawi; they can salvage something from this group when they meet Zimbabwe on Thursday January 14 and Senegal four days later.

With modern day AFCON expanded from 16 to 24 teams split into six four-member groups, the options of the Flames advancing to the knockout stage are open. 

After all, top two teams plus four third-best placed finishers across the pools will also sail through.

However, if the Flames are to sneak through, they need more than courage and determination. They need to know the art of shooting and right angles for doing so. 

They need to be efficient, making use economically of every little chance because at this level ball possession and sexy passes pale into insignificance if you cannot score. 

The question is: Can you or should you be teaching players the art of calmness and precision in front of goal right at AFCON and expect them to understand this?AFCON is for men and not boys.

At AFCON, no one listens to the “we have played well” song. Here the jazz is that of efficiency.