Playing without the 12th player

Malawi Flames

The Kamuzu Stadium has been the Malawi national football team's fortress. In its hey day, it could carry 41,000 but today its aging legs can not hold more than half that number.

Due to  Confederation of African Football (CAF) coronavirus restrictions, Malawi was forced to host Burkina Faso in the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at Kamuzu Stadium on Monday in an empty stadium, leaving out the 12th player aka the fans.

But that did not stop the not more than 50 sports enthusiasts accredited like officials and some former players from cheer the Flames.

In the presence of Minister of Youth and Sports, Football Association of Malawi (FAM), Super League of Malawi (Sulom) and other officials, the Flames failed to secure a goal.

This was the second match and the first competitive game the Flames were playing at home without fans in the open stands after hosting Zimbabwe in a friendly match at Chiwembe Stadium last month.

Cheering could be heard from the VIP and covered stands where the accredited sat whenever Malawi made an interesting move or even missed a goal-scoring opportunity.

From one of the covered stands were former Flames players among them Peter Mponda, Joseph Kamwendo, Robert Ng’ambi and other officials like Under-20 manager Steve Madeira and coach Charles Kamanga.

Peter Mponda
Former players watching the game. Photos by Benjamin Maona

Feeling heartbroken and concerned, the former players could be heard shouting from the stand “Tiyeni tibwelere! [let us push back]: Mukutani kodi? [What are you doing]: Nthawi yatha tikufuna chigoli! [Time is running out we need a goal]. These are comments mostly made by spectators when allowed to watch the match.

Joseph Kamwendo
Joseph Kamwendo and Isaac Kaliati were also there 

From the usual struggles queuing to  gain access into the Stadium by Malawi supporters from all walks of life, this time everything was done orderly since only the  accredited were granted entry into the facility.

One thing constant was the heavy presence of police to provide security as this was one of the big international matches. In fact, some supporters failed heed of the instructions of 'no supporters will be allowed'.

Some fans were spotted outside the Stadium gate being chased by the police.

Malawi Defense Force (MDF) soldiers were also spotted inside the Stadium, perhaps to beef up the security team.

With the few accredited people occupying the VIP and covered stands, there was enough room for social distance as some FAM officials were available ensuring that everyone was putting on face masks the proper way.

In the field of play, it seemed the team played at ease without much pressure from the fans when they fill up the stadium shouting at them.

Meanwhile, the team's coach Meck Mwase has said the boys needs more time to prepare for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against South Sudan and Uganda.

The Flames are set to play the two sides next year March to wind up their group B assignments and see if they can qualify for the continental competition.

Mwase made the remarks after the goalless draw against Burkina Faso at Kamuzu Stadium on Monday.

“I am impressed with how the boys played. We are making progress and we just need more time to prepare for the March games. It looks far but early preparations would do us better because we know we had the Coronavirus (COVID-19) break which has affected us and the players needs to catch up. Otherwise we are not giving up yet, we still have a chance,” Mwase said.

Monday’s result gives Malawi a mathematical chance to qualify for the competition since the point gained pushed Burkina Faso to eight points leading the group, while Malawi maintained third place with three points.

South Sudan pushed further to three points still anchoring the group.

This means Malawi has to win the two remaining games to go past Uganda and finish second.

The Flames will host Uganda to revenge the 2-0 loss away before they meet South Sudan at their backyard which they defeated at Kamuzu Stadium.