Flames interim coach Marian Mario Marinica says he is optimistic that his charges can stand up and be counted at the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals which begins next Sunday in Cameroon.
Speaking during a virtual press conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on his final 23-man squad yesterday, the Romanian said he has belief in the squad he has picked for the African safari.
He said: “Of course, if you take player for player, [our opponents] have superstars which Malawi does not have, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get results. With sheer determination, hard work and good organisation we can make it. We look forward to making the country proud.”
The 57-year-old tactician, however, admitted that his charges will need to punch above their weight to move mountains.
He also said with the assistance of data analyst Ged Searson, they have done some home work on their Group B opponents Senegal’s Lions of Teranga, Guinea’s Syli Nationale and Zimbabwe’s Warriors.
The coach also justified the inclusion of three uncapped players—Silver Strikers goalkeeper Charles Thom, midfielder Zebron Kalima and Civil Service United defender Lawrence Chaziya.
He said: “Thom impressed me in the [Airtel Top 8] final and other games. He is a shot stopper, good goalkeeper. Zebron has fantastic skills and he was the overall best crosser of the ball.
“Of course, there were issues about his stature…him being small, but that is not a problem.”
On Chaziya, Marinica said: “He is the player with the fastest approach and the best header. So, they had to make the final squad.”
The notable exclusion from the squad is Sudan-based winger Gerald Phiri Jnr, who is among the five players on the reserve list. The others are goalkeeper Brightone Munthali, defender Paul Ndlovu, striker Stain Davie and left back Norchard Chimbalanga.
Phiri yesterday refused to comment on his exclusion.
However, the coach admitted that with Covid-19 effects, the preparations proved tough.
He said: “Unfortunately, Covid has ruled out some of them as they could not be seen, denying them a chance to be seen.
“We could also not play the two friendly matches as planned and this affected our assessment process. So, a decision had to be made [to select players] based on value of the players, current performance and contribution to the team.”
Marinica also said the team has suffered a fresh setback as South Africa-based forward Richard Mbulu tested positive for Covid-19 and is in isolation.
Captain Limbikani Mzava, who was his roommate, will also isolate for 72 hours although he tested negative, virtually ruling him out for part of the preparations.
The squad includes the majority of players involved in the qualifiers and enterprising attacker Robin Ngalande, who sustained an injury during the final qualification match against Uganda’s Cranes in March, has made the final squad.
Midfielder and Vice-captain John ‘CJ’ Banda has the highest number of caps (75).
Reacting to the final squad, football analyst Kelvin Moyo said: “Almost 80 percent of the squad played during the Afcon and  World Cup qualifiers and their performance, especially in World Cup qualifiers, was not inspiring.
“So going past the group stages will be a miracle. Apart from Gerald Jnr, all the influential players have made the squad.”
Meanwhile, the Flames faced Comoros in a friendly match last evening.
The Flames will play their first match on January 10 against Guinea, before facing Zimbabwe four days later. Their last group B match will be against Senegal on January 18.
The following is the full list: Goalkeepers: Ernest Kakhobwe, William Thole and Thom; Defenders: Mzava (C), Dennis Chembezi, Mark Fodya, Gomezgani Chirwa, Chaziya, Stanley Sanudi and Peter Cholopi; Midfielders: CJ Banda, Charles Petro, Chimwemwe Idana and Chikoti Chirwa; Wingers: Ngalande, Yamikani Chester, Micium Mhone, Fransisco Madinga, Peter Banda and Kalima; Strikers: Mbulu, Khuda Muyaba and Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango.