Can the Flames go past Afcon group stages?

Malawi Flames

It's now hours before Malawi kick off its 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon campaign.

For the Flames, much as their qualification has been described as 'just a chance' by many, they have to be given credit for being one of the three countries from the Southern part of Africa to book a place at the competition. 

Even giants, who have laid their hands on the trophy, Zambia failed to qualify and are at the mercy of Fifa to replace Zimbabwe should the latter be banned for government interference in the football affairs. 

Now it will be the competition heavily patronised by teams from the Northern, and Western part of Africa, while Zimbabwe, Malawi and Comoros will stand in for Southern teams. 

The Flames already arrived in Bafoussam, Cameroon on Wednesday and proceeded straight into some ping-pong drills before their full training on Thursday afternoon.

The team had a 10-day camp training in Saudi Arabia where they were supposed to play two friendly games against Comoros and Mali, but only managed to face the former and defeated them 2-1 courtesy of Gabadinho Mhango and Khuda Muyaba. 

Donning their black suits, the Flames left the country in groups forced by COVID-19 which hit the camp.

The virus still haunts the team because they are going to miss the services of defenders Charles Petro and Mark Fodya in their opener against Guinea and  six others on Monday having tested positive for COVID-19, while hitman Richard Mbulu has been cleared to travel to Cameroon. 

Unlike most Malawians, who wants the team to break the jinx and proceeded to the group stages, Head of Technical Panel, Mario Marinica said he has set no target, no wonder he named an unusual squad comprising new players, unlike the team's coach Meck Mwase who has been sticking to the same script since the qualifiers. Of course he called it consistency. 

Despite failing to go past group stages, some positives can be drawn from the 1984 and 2010 participation, which Malawians expect to be superceded by this year's performance.

Malawi Vs Zim
Malawi and Zimbabwe in their previous encounter 

From Group B, where Malawi was placed, the familiar opponent seems to be Zimbabwe and somehow Guinea.

The Flames kickstart their competition with Guinea on Monday.

Statistics favour the Guinea side as the two teams last played each other about five years ago.

Guinea beat Malawi 2-1 at Kamuzu Stadium after a goalless draw away.

That was after seven years when they played a 2-1 victory back to back on each other. 

Malawi and Zimbabwe have met 10 times, and the former has won six times, while the Flames tasted a single victory.

Three games ended in a draw. 

With Senegal, just last year in July, the team beat Malawi 2-1 at Cosafa Cup when they appeared at guests. 

Before that, they also faced each other in 2007 in an international friendly match where the Senegalese won 3-2.

Each of the three teams has its strength and weaknesses, and Malawi is likely to suffer from the lack of enough information about the team's style of play considering that the Technical Director is new and might not be conversant with that.

In this case, Malawi ought to have done proper assignment studying the team's especially Guinea.

However, the Kaba Diawara led Guinea side have a task to complete.

Their coup leader, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, who ousted President Alpha Conde last year, bade farewell to the team, with the word that they have to win the Cup or return all the money Government has financed.

This means the boys will sweat blood at the competition. 

Senegal is dominated by players plying their trade in European Leagues like captain Sadio Mane of Liverpool, Baby Keita, Amadou Diawara and others, while Malawi is dominated by local players, with the few playing in South Africa, and only Charles Petro and Francisco Madinga in Europe.

The calibre of Senegal players cannot be matched with that of the Flames.

Malawi will have to easily adapt to the style of play by these players and perhaps outclass their intelligence if they are to produce positive results. 

Malawi
Malawi versus Senegal at the Cosafa 

Of course Marinica has already been training them on the need to be mentally and physically fit for he knows the opponents play a physical game.

Maybe the only solace for Malawi might be Zimbabwe.

The Flames may capitalise on the absence of some key players in the Norman Mapenza team Including Marvelous Nakamba who plays for Aston Villa, Marshall Munetsi, and Brendan Galloway of Plymouth, who are nursing injuries. 

Khama Billiard is also not with the Warriors after retiring from international assignments.

This means the Flames will have to watch out for players like Knowledge Musona, and France's Lyon based Tino Kadewere.

Just like the Warriors, Malawi also has the cream of players like Enerst Kakhobwe, Gabadinho Mhango, Khuda Muyaba, Limbikani Mzava, and others who have the potential to stop the Manes.

All the Flames need to do is chalk the first win against Guinea, just like they did, 3-0 against Algeria in 2010.

Form there they need to defeat Zimbabwe and at least get a draw against Senegal which will grant them a place in the next stage.