Flames unarmed for big battle


Morocco, the next 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Flames opponents, dismantled Ivory Coast 2-0 on Saturday with overwhelming power, dynamism and resilience to book a place at next year’s World Cup.

Ivory Coast, who were playing at home, are not an ordinary team; they have big name players that threaten opponents with invisible force. Crystal Palace forward Wilfred Zaha, Tottenham Hotspur wing-back Serge Aurier, former Chelsea striker Solomon Kalou are some of those on that A-list.

But against Morocco, who are coached by twice Africa Cup of Nations Afcon) winner Hervé Renard, these stars appeared terribly out of sorts, beaten, controlled and ashamed.

Chirwa (R) challenges a Lesotho player during the match

As we all anticipate, such is the mountainous task that awaits the Flames and their coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG) in March next year.

If Flames performance during the friendly international match against Lesotho is anything to go by, to defeat Morocco away, they will need miracles matching the biblical ones that forced the hand of Pharaoh to release the children of Israel.

At Bingu National Stadium on Saturday,  Malawi lacked all the ingredients a team requires to win at high level. They were too slow for modern football, the midfield manned by Robert Ng’ambi and Chikoti Chirwa—probably the one eyed man amongst the blind—lacked the much-needed creativity.

The attackers—Atusaye Nyondo, Robin Ngalande and Schumacher Kuwali—were as disjointed as villages in a war-torn region while the Limbani Mzava-led defence was, simply put, massively not aggressive.

The one-all draw against the African minnows counts the sixth since Geneugden took over the reins of power following a decision not to renew Ernest Mtawali’s contract.

The Belgian has won only two games; against Togo and Comoros and has lost three times; twice against Madagascar and once against Tanzania.  He has also presided over six draws against Morocco Under-23, Kenya, Lesotho, Angola, Tanzania and Mauritius.

Goal statistics do not make a good read for the Belgian tactician who was widely seen as the saviour of Malawi football. In 11 games the Flames have scored five goals, averaging 0.5 goal per game.

The Flames encounter against Lesotho was the last preparatory match before the 2019 Afcon campaign resumes in March against Morocco before facing hosts and current champions Cameroon in Group B qualifiers.

It is all clear that this team is not ready for the battles that lie ahead and the coach himself admitted in a post-match interview.

“I wish we had another Fifa-sanctioned day for international matches before March so that I can iron out the team’s weaknesses. Because what it means now is that any camping will not involve foreign-based players and that will not have much impact,” RVG said.

The coach knows that he is failing to inspire the nation and he coaxed an excuse. He blamed the players—a very rare act from him—for not sticking to his game plan.

“Throughout the week, we trained on playing a fast game, but we were very slow. This is why we could not create many scoring opportunities,” he said.

Typically a tale of a bad carpenter blaming his tools.

RVG’s opposite number, Moses Madiehe, the Lesotho coach, was more brutal in his assessment of the Flames.

“Malawi are fond of passing the ball around without making many forward passes. It is difficult to score many goals with such an approach,” he said.

Football analyst Charles Nyirenda, during his commentary on Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), also made similar observation.

“Flames have the possession but they cannot turn it into goals. This should be a worry to the coach and the nation,” he said.

As a matter of way forward, RVG has proposed that local players start a seven-week camping in February in preparation for the match against Morocco.

National teams elsewhere traditionally regroup a week before the match. But the proposal from the coach smacks of desperation and clearly shows that the Flames are neither prepared for the battle nor the war. n

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