The Flames kick-start their 2022 Hollywoodbets Cosafa Cup campaign this afternoon against unpredictable Lesotho’s Likuena at King Zwelithini Stadium in Durban, South Africa.
This will be Malawi’s 21st attempt to win the regional showpiece which has eluded them since its inception in 1997.
A good result will ease the pressure on the Flames going into the second match and boost their chances of winning the group which also has Mauritius and e-Swatini.
The match is coach Mario Marinica’s debut at the regional tournament.
The Romanian said he is not under pressure and promised to take the Flames to the knockout stage.
He said: “I don’t believe there is such thing as pressure. Pressure is something you put yourself under. Yes, at the previous tournament Malawi didn’t do well, but we hope that with our game plan we will go a step further this time.”
Flames captain John ‘CJ’ Banda said Malawians deserve nothing, but victory as the country celebrates its 58th Independence Anniversary today.
The celebrations were for a long time synonymous with a football match at the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre.
Banda said the Flames are ready to die for their country on this auspicious day.
He said: “We know the game is on Independence Day which is a very special day for every Malawian. We just have to ensure that we don’t spoil the celebrations.”
Marinica has a full-strength squad which includes ‘CJ’, Frank Gabadinho Mhango, Khuda Muyaba, Chimwemwe Idana, Stain Davie, Stanley Sanudi, Micium Mhone, Yamikani Chester, Peter Banda and Chikoti Chirwa.
The only regulars missing are Silver Strikers goalkeeper Charles Thom, defenders Lawrence Chaziya and Denis Chembezi and midfielder Gerald Phiri Jnr.
On the other hand, Likuena coach Veselin Jelusic has brought a squad of experienced and youthful players led by their all-time top scorer at Cosafa, Motebang Sera.
They are eager to continue their recent fine form at Cosafa Cup which is better than that of the Flames.
The last time the two sides met in Cosafa Cup was in 2016 when Likuena won 1-0 and they went on to qualify for the quarter-finals in which they lost to South Africa on post-match penalties.
But Marinica played down that aspect, saying: “Yes, Malawi has never beaten Lesotho since 2015, but as they say, records are there to be broken. We hope we will have a good game and come out with positive results.”
Lesotho went on to reach the semi-finals of the competition in 2017, 2018 and 2019, narrowly losing on each occasion.
But they clinched bronze in 2018 after beating Madagascar in a third-place play-off.
The Flames’ best performance in recent years was in 2015 when they won the Plate phase. Malawi did not make it past the group stages in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In 2019 Malawi reached the knockout stages, but lost to eventual winners Zambia in post-match penalties.
Last year, under immediate past coach Meck Mwase, Malawi did not make it out of the pool stages after failing to win a single match.”