Malawi national football team this afternoon want to make a strong start to their 2021 Cosafa Cup campaign against six-time champions Zimbabwe’s Warriors at Isaac Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
It is a tricky fixture for the Flames who were anticipating to play Madagascar, Comoros and Zambia in the group stage, only for the fixture to change after the two islanders pulled out at the eleventh hour.
Now coach Meck Mwase’s charges find themselves in a new group comprising West African guests Senegal and fellow Cosafa members Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe while the other group has Zambia, hosts South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and E-swatini (formerly Swaziland).
But the coach downplayed the change in fixtures, saying a team must be prepared to face any opponent at such a tournament.
With the top-two teams proceeding to the semi-finals, the Flames need to start strongly against the Warriors.
Mwase said a win in the opening match will help instil confidence in his charges to qualify for the semi-finals.
He said: “Opening matches are crucial. We need to start well with at least a win. That will ease the pressure. It will also mean that if we win the second game [against Mozambique on Sunday] and third game [against Namibia on July 13], we will be assured of at least second position and a place in the semi-finals.”
But the Flames will have to be at their best as they face the Warriors who have a decorated record at the Cosafa Cup.
Zimbabwe are six-time Cosafa champions and one of the region’s football powerhouses.
The Warriors won the cup in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2017 and 2018.
Ironically, Malawi lost in the final to South Africa in 2002 and to Zimbabwe in 2003. The Flames lost on both occassions 2-1, 2-0 in two-legged ties to miss the title with a 4-1 aggregate.
The two sides have avoided each other at the Cosafa Cup since 2013 when their last match ended in a draw.
They did however, meet a couple of times in Afrcia Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers and international friendlies.
In recent years, Zimbabwe have had a better record over Malawi having won 4-1 in an international friendly in 2014, 2-1 in 2015 Afcon qualifier and 3-0 in 2016 Afcon qualifier.
An international friendly between the two teams played at Mpira Stadium last year ended goalless.
But Mwase said this time it is a different scenario and that the Flames, who are bubbling with confidence after qualifying for the Cameroon Afcon finals, are geared to do better.
“The past remains in the past. This is a completely different scenario. We are focusing on this game and not what happend in the past,” he said. Group B matches got underway on Wednesday with Mozambique and Zimbabwe settling for a goalless draw while Namibia beat guests Senegal 2-1.