Malawi’s undisputed greatest defenders-turned-coaches Young Chimodzi and Jack Chamangwana’s Flames regime is fast deteriorating into one rolled on the script of irony after Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Algeria.
Intheir playing days back in the late 1970s and he 1980s, Chimodzi was so disciplined defender on the overlap that they called him ‘You Go first’. Chamangwana built his reputation as one of the fiercest defenders on the continent and he was christened Africa.
Yet, their balance score card after the Group B qualifying match of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) reads: 16 goals conceded against nine goals scored in 12 games of six defeats, three wins and three draws.
All this in six months with games, including friendly matches, whose further breakdown has one loss in four home competitive matches and no away win on all fronts.
“Yes, we created many chances,” Chimodzi said the obvious in a post-match interviewon Saturday, “we couldn’t have been talking about loss, if we had put the chances to use. We need to use our chances. We gave the goals away. We did not use the chances we created.”
Organising the Flames’ defensive shape is proving to be a tall order for Chimodzi and Chamangwana. Zimbabwe-based defender George Nyirenda is being ignored at a heavy cost of defeats and there is no hope of getting a defensive midfielder.
Both coaches stand at some 1.8 metres. They know the importance of height in defending, yet, even when Lucky Malata got injured before Saturday’s game, they could not replace him with the Flames tallest and strongest defender Sankhani Mkandawire, but diminutive Bashir Maunde.
With Francis Mulimbika disciplined on the left side of Malawi defence, Algeria attacked through Maunde’s avenue. He was unavailable when Algeria chipped a long ball on the shoulder of substitute Djamel Mensah who reacted the fastest, before Limbikani Mzava, to deflect his shot past badly positioned goalkeeper Macdonald Harawa.
Harawa, who is fast-descended from one-game hero to all-time zero with his spectacular lack of mastery of basics, committed himself to the ball, but not close enough to obstruct Mensal, let alone offer Mzava space to deal with the danger. Harawa, unbelievably, could not cover his near post.
In conceding the second goal, Harawa could neither organise his defence nor command the box leading to the eighth minute opener for the visitors. The goal, coming against the run of play, was again a demonstration of the Flames comical defending.
There was no man to guard the far post. Flames players in the box picked their Algeria opponents and not the ball. In meeting the corner, Carl Medjan flicked the ball freely from the near post and on the other end, Rafik Halliche burst from the deep to head the ball into the net.
Both goals came in the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes, which injured defender James Sangala, had warned Malawi was most vulnerable in. The second goal came when Malawi dominated possession, but wasted too many chances.
“All big teams have one characteristic, you can play well against them, but once you make a mistake, they punish you,” Sangala had noted before the game. It was a pity that he could not talk to the colleagues on the pitch.
Algeria’s gulf in class is evidenced by their Fifa ranking of 20 in the world against 98 for the Flames. In Mali and Benin last month, Malawi also let in the opening 15 minutes and late in the game.
Chimodzi and Chamangwana cannot arrest this trend in 12 games.
And it should be least surprising as the midfield combination of Chimango Kayira, Joseph Kamwendo and Robert Ng’ambi offers duplication of attacking roles. At its worst this combo lacks balance of ball winners such as Hellings Mwakasungula.
In attack, Chiukepo Msowoya, who played based on the past record at the expense of Zimbabwe-based Ishmael Thindwa, had two clear chances, but he volleyed them into the sky even when unchallenged.
Robin Ngalande and substitute Frank Banda were the only Flames players that had shots on target, but Algeria goalkeeper Rais Mbolhli dealt with them. Ng’ambi had to chest the ball back to Joseph Kamwendo, but his left foot shot bounced off the post. Kayira, whose role as a defensive midfielder remains suspect, once again shot over the bar many times.
The Flames coaches finally killed off the Flames’ attacking impetus when they withdrew Atusaye Nyondo for Gastin Simkonda, Msowoya for Frank Banda and Ngalande for Frank Gabadinho Mhango.
MBCtv soccer analyst and former Flames captain Peter Mponda could not believe the substitutions coming after break when the hosts were on top of their attacking game.
“They [substitutions] have taken off the pressure on Algeria. I do not understand the rationale of these substitutions. There is no chance for Malawi of qualifying for Afcon. It could have been different if we had collected a point,” said Mponda.
Soon, Algeria scored their second goal. If the first goal was atrocious, the second was comical. Meeting Algeria this Wednesday at their backyard could turn into a disaster.