The Flames yesterday escaped defeat by the skin of their teeth when they snatched a late equaliser through substitute John â€˜CJâ€™ Banda in virtually the last kick of the game as they were held to a 1-all draw by Nigeria in a Group F 2014 World Cup qualifier at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre.
The clock does not lie and, as true as the fact that this was a winterâ€™s afternoon in the commercial city, there were just seconds left in added time before Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn could blow the final whistle as the Super Eagles led 1-0.
The Flames appeared dead and buried when towering defender Ruben Gabriel swung upfield to plant home a free-kick that was awarded after Christantus Uzoenyi was brought down by Moses Chavula with just a minute to full time, sending the giant stadium into a cathedral-hush silence.
And as time ticked away, the stadium oozed anxiety.
Then it came.
Bandaâ€”who replaced Robin Ngalandeâ€”pounced on a miscleared ball by the Nigeria defence to slot the ball home.
Nothing was forced, it was all simple and as soft as the cheeks of a newly born baby and relief was the prevalent emotion around the stadium.
It was a moment that broke Nigerian hearts and seconds later, the referee blew the final whistle.
But even after earning a deserved but seemingly unlikely point on an afternoon when the Flames fashioned a plethora of chancesâ€”most of the fans still bayed for Flames coach Kinnah Phiriâ€™s blood and chanted â€œKinnah achoke! Kinnah achoke!â€
The Flames, who are fast becoming draw specialists, now have two points from two games having held Kenyaâ€™s Harambee Stars to a goalless draw in their opening qualifier in Nairobi last weekend.
Nevertheless, the ever-upbeat Kinnah still put on a brave face and insisted that the Flames still have a good chance to qualify.
â€œWe shouldnâ€™t lose hope, we still have a chance because we are in the early stages of the qualifiers.
â€œWe did well in that even after conceding a late goal, we never gave up hope and fought for an equaliser.
â€œOur performance was good, but again we failed to utilise the chances that we created. We still have to work on finishing,â€ Kinnah said.
True! The Flames were a better side, but one wonders for how long they are going to rue missed chances.
Upfront, gangly forward Russell Mwafulirwaâ€™s first touch was awful and Atusaye Nyondo was a shadow of himself.Â
The Flamesâ€™ closest chance came in the 17th minute when Spain-based Ngalandeâ€”who was again featured as a wingerâ€”hit the post with fabulous connection from a Joseph â€˜Shakiraâ€™ Kamwendo cross.
Midfielder Chimango Kaira also missed with only â€˜keeper Enyeama at his mercy to the disbelief of the fans.
Flames goalkeeper Simplex Nthala was also in good form and twice denied the visitors.
In the 37th minute, he denied England-based striker Victor Moses in a one-on-one situation.
Midfielders Davie Banda and Kamwendo were also outstanding for the Flames at the heart of the pitch with a disciplined and inventive display.Â
Nigeriaâ€™s coach Stephen Keshi said his team was unlucky not to hold on to the lead.
â€œWe were close to getting three vital away points, but we somehow lost concentration towards the end, but all in all, I think it was a fair result,â€ Keshi said.
Flames line-up:Â Nthala, Limbikani Mzava, Moses Chavula (C), James Sangala, Foster Namwela, Chimango Kaira (Robert Ngâ€™ambi), Davie Banda, Ngalande (CJ Banda), Kamwendo, Russell (Chiukepo Msowoya), Nyondo.