Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango should grab the headlines for stepping up to the Kamuzu Stadium plate on Saturday, but substitute Frank Banda deserves a slice of the kudos too.
Mhango’s two goals and Banda’s work ethic masked cracks that were evident for the better part of the 2-0 win over Chad in the Africa Cup of Nations first-round, first leg. Coach Young Chimodzi recognised that fact too.
“This is a team that is being rebuilt. You cannot expect it to score and play well at the same time. But as time goes, we will be better. The good thing is that we have kept a clean sheet. We knew that they would be physical. Going into the second leg, we need to beef up the midfield,” Chimodzi told the press in a post-match interview.
If Mhango provided relief to the success-starved nation, then Banda mopped the midfield that before his arrival for Rodrick Gonani, was messy.
If his opener was plastered with instinct and opportunism; a tap-in from a fumbled Joseph Kamwendo free-kick, Gabadinho’s second goal was a typical strike from a boy born in an offside position.
The margin between sneaking past the last defender in meeting a long dipping ball was so thin, but he did just that before racing clear to place wide of Chad goalkeeper Dillah Mbiramadji.
It summed up yet another afternoon laced with revelations for the 22-year-old sniper who has, barely months into the South Africa Premier Soccer League (PSL) season, won Bloemfontein Celtic Golden Boot and Players’ Player of the Year Award.
The former Big Bullets boy was also nominated for PSL Young Players Award.
“The coach told me to go out there and perform the way I always do. He said I should never be afraid to out-jump them because they are giants. I have learnt a lot in South Africa. It is now touch-and-go,” Gabadinho said in a post-match interview.
The boy with a big heart, pressed high up the pitch and even tracked down opposite markers, made incisive runs that earned free kicks, he created, shot from long and close range. And, more importantly, scored early enough after six minutes before Chad had found their feet, and late enough to kill off their comeback hopes of the Emmanuel Tregot-coached Chad.
“They were lucky to get a goal after five minutes and it is difficult coming back after that when you are playing away,” the 51-year-old Frenchman said.
Gabadinho’s tally now stands at three goals in eight games for the Flames, with Saturday’s outing being his first full game.
The win surely calms Chimodzi’s nerves going into the tricky first-round, second leg on the weekend of May 30 to determine who meets either Sao Tome or Benin who drew 0-0.
But even after Gabadingo had given the Flames an early lead, Chad could have come back into the party had their wing-back Leger Djimenan not placed his header, which Malawi defence and goalkeeper Charles Swini misjudged, terribly wide.
That proved to be the turning point as Malawi barely hung on to the lid with Gabadinho sidelined wide on the left-wing where he operated. Left-back Moses Chavula, let alone, Joseph Kamwendo took time to time the striker’s runs. He cut a frustrated figure waving when being starved of the ball.
Defensive midfielder Chimango Kayira was a lone worker and the gaps and the cracks appeared with so many misplacement of passes and sloppy transitional play that invited the wasteful visitors who deployed a 4-4-1 system.
Chimodzi’s 46th minute introduction of Banda for Gonani was timely. The stronger Banda added steel in midfield, intercepting balls and winning aerial combats. Chad’s resistance was broken and Gabadinho found spaces again in the 4-1-3-2 formation.
A better showing would be expected in Chad if the Flames are to proceed.