Door closed on old guard

Flames coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG) says the exclusion of some key players from the squad to face Morocco’s Atlas Lions in a dead rubber 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier is by design.

The Flames will host Morocco on March 22 at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe and RVG has called up a 23-member squad which will assemble in Lilongwe this Sunday. 

Mzava: I respect the coaches’ decision

Among others, the Belgian mentor, who hinted at promoting the Under-23 team to the Flames, has dropped South Africa-based captain Limbikani Mzava, Robin Ngalande who is now plying his trade in Azerbaijan, last season’s TNM Super League Golden Boot winner Chiukepo Msowoya and his runner-up Gastin Simkonda.

Mozambique-based goalkeeper Charles Swini and Japan-based Jabulani Linje and Richard Mbulu are also not part of the squad.

“As I said, it is time to look to the future. The old players had their time and time is now ripe to switch focus to the youngsters.

“Of course, we have included some older players such as ‘CJ’ and Lanjesi to provide guidance to the youngsters as their experience is vital. Otherwise it is dominated by players that are just above 23 or 24 years old,” he said in an interview yesterday, adding that Swini has been left out due to illness.

Apart from Lanjesi and Banda, RVG has also recalled the old guard such as midfielders Chikoti Chirwa, Yamikani Chester, and Gerald Phiri Jnr and Gabadinho Mhango.

“The initial plan was to have the Under-23 face Morocco, but due to the clash of fixtures with the Under-23 [national team] match against Zambia, we are prioritising the latter because we are still in contention.

“So, players who double as senior players—Precious Sambani, Patrick Phiri, Dennis Chembezi, Brightone Munthali and Levison Maganizo—will not feature against Morocco as they will be in Lusaka with the Under-23 team and that is why some senior team players have been recalled,” said the coach.

However, despite Flames being out of contention, RVG insists that they will take the game against Morocco seriously “as it will mark the start of a new chapter”.

Apart from Phiri, the coach has also recalled former Mozambique-based forward Schumacher Kuwali and e-Swatini (formerly Swaziland)-based Binwell Katinji, defender Miracle Gabeya and goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe.  

The notable new face in the squad is goalkeeper Hastings Banda.

Reacting to his exclusion, Mzava, who was also left out from the back-to-back Afcon qualifiers against Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, said he is not bitter.

“National team selection is at the discretion of the coach and if he feels I am old or I do not fit in his plans for this match then fine and good.

“No one is invincible and I have to accept and respect the coaching panel’s decision as well as support their plans to build a new team. Other than that, I wish both the Flames and the Under-23 side all the best in the upcoming matches,” he said.

However, while applauding the move to build a new team, football analyst Kim Kamau said the exclusion of players such as Mzava and Ngalande raises questions.

“For a start, Mzava has been the most consistent foreign-based player and he plays in one of the top leagues on the continent, he is also not old.

“As for Ngalande, he is now settling down at his new club and the Morocco match, which is of less significance to us, should have given the coaches a chance to assess him. I believe there should be more to their exclusion,” he said.

The Flames anchor Group B with four points going into their last match against Morocco who lead the four-team group with 10 points.

Reigning African champions Cameroon, who will face Comoros in their last qualifying match, are second with eight points, five points above Comoros.

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