Football can degenerate into anything. First it was an innocent football fixture between Nigeria and Malawi, only to turn into a security fiasco and now a racial slur. Total war awaits Calabar, Nigeria today.
Because the Flames and the Super Eagles cannot agree, let them fight on the UJ Usuene Stadium battlefield. The winner will secure a berth in the second round of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Leading Group F on nine points, two clear of Malawi, Nigeria can advance with just a draw. Not so with the Flames whose only option is beating the African kings ranked 35th in the world. Malawi, who lost 1-0 in Botswana’s final preparatory match on Tuesday, is currently ranked 118.
The Flames step on the battlefield as underdogs. No Malawian football team has ever beaten Nigerian opposition. All this is rolled into three Flames’ defeats and two draws against the Super Eagles on all fronts since 1978.
Add to the fact that the Nigerians have been to World Cup finals, have big name players such as Mikel Obi of Chelsea, then Nigeria pundit Chukwuama Akuneto is justified to dismiss the Flames and their coach Tom Saintfiet as dreamers.
“I would not say Malawi cannot beat Nigeria, but I think Nigeria, especially in attack, have got enough personnel who combine great technical know-how with exceptional pace and penetration, especially when transitions occur and a counter-attack develops,” Akuneto told Weekend Nation exclusively recently.
Some may say Saintfiet’s axing of captain Joseph Kamwendo further weakens the Flames. But using his previous flirtations with Nigeria football as technical director, the Belgian says tactically, he knows what he is doing.
In Kamwendo’s place returns Greece-based Tawonga Chimodzi. He is expected to be the Flames’ brain, creating space for others and himself, with Peter Wadabwa and Robin Ngalande plying the wings. Atusaye Nyondo should start upfront, trailed by false striker Robert Ng’ambi. Phillip Masiye has to minimise Victor Moses’ destructive mobility. Limbikani Mzava and Moses Chavula must deny Nigeria wingbacks Efe Ambrose and Elderson Echiejile freedom of movement going forward.
Malawi will likely not compete pound for pound, but rather minimise their own unforced errors and hope to punish the Super Eagles for any slip up. Saintfiet hinted on this suffocating tactic on August 6 2013 when addressing the press in Blantyre.
“I do not want to have fun during the match. I am a tactical coach not someone who always wants to be seen as nice. I don’t want to hear that ‘coach you played very well but lost’. We would rather play badly and win,” said the Belgian whose two-month voluntary service ends today.
It has been a turbulent stay in Malawi for the coach whose coming sparked a furore, largely due to Football Association of Malawi’s (FAM) poor management of information. This forced Saintfiet to drop his $10 000 appearance fee demand if he beats Nigeria.
On paper, all odds favour the hosts who successfully dismissed FAM’s protest to Fifa that Calabar is insecure, sparking a bitter feud which Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi worsened by making racial utterances against Saintfiet.
So superior are the Nigerians that they can attack and score through wingbacks, play defensive and catch opposition on the break or go flat out on the offensive from start to finish using the creativity of Moses.
“I have three very important games in my career; one against Malawi and two in the final qualifying round. Every game has its own spirit. We try to build a team around a team,” Keshi told SuperSport recently.
It is clear that Keshi is already dreaming of a place in the final qualifying round to involve 10 group winners who will play home and away in the final qualifying phase. The winner will then be among the five African teams to make the World Cup berth in Brazil.
Malawians have of late been swept off their feet by Nigeria’s P-Square’s chart-bursting hit Chop my money/I don’t care. The Flames better adopt the same carefree attitude in this typical David versus Goliath combat.