Flames’ 2026 Fifa World Cup campaign starts in earnest this evening as they face hosts The Lone Stars of Liberia at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, Monrovia.
Five teams in the group, namely Tunisia, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome & Principe and Namibia stand in the Flames path to ultimate glory with 10 matches lined up in the gruelling battle for qualification.
Coach Patrick Mabedi in an interview from Liberia said the Flames need to banish the tendency of starting on a wrong foot as this leads to panicking towards the end of the campaign.
He said: “For us, we started preparing for the World Cup long time ago when we were playing in Afcon [Africa Cup of Nations] and the Cosafa Cup.
“This is it. Now we start our race. This is the game we have been waiting for. Sometimes it’s how you start, and then it’s also how you finish.
“So it’s important for us to take this game very seriously and we need to do our best to collect three points. That will give us an advantage of having confidence and keeping the momentum.”
But collecting maximum points in West Africa has always been a challenge for the Flames.
The Flames have never won a match since 1980’s first outing to West Africa where they lost 3-0 to Cameroon.
But Mabedi believes this time, the gods of football will smile on the Flames.
“I think it’s just a mental thing. We always have in mind that when we go to West Africa it’s a problem. And secondly, we don’t adjust quickly.
“Thirdly, we don’t manage time during the game. And tactically, we don’t plan very well. In modern football you need to adjust in all aspects.
“You need to manage the time because it’s hot here. At the same time, prepare for situations.
“When things happen how are you doing to respond? If we manage all this, I think we can be successful.”
Unlike his predecessors who relied mostly on old guards, Mabedi is for youngsters.
The squad has majority of TNM Super League players such as Blessings Mpokera, Lanjesi Nkhoma, Patrick Mwaungulu Lawrence Chaziya, Christopher Kumwembe, Stanley Sanudi, Wisdom Mpinganjira, Francisco Madinga, Chimwemwe Idana and Lloyd Aaron.
The squad has five foreign-based players namely Iraq’s Al-Qasim SC Dennis Chembezi, Brighton Munthali of Black Leopards in South Africa, John CJ Banda of UD Songo in Mozambique, Chifundo Mphasi of Kabwe Warriors FC in Zambia and Lloyd Njaliwa of Costa do Sol in Mozambique.
Mabedi said he is confident that the squad he has picked will deliver despite some lacking experience.
“I believe in these players that they will deliver,” he said.
On the opponents, Mabedi says though a good side, Liberia have weaknesses.
“If you give them time and space they can hurt you,” he said.
On his part, Flames captain CJ Banda said a victory in Liberia will be a morale booster for the team.
He said: “If we get a positive result here, it will ease our pressure in the home match against Tunisia. The morale will be high.”
Meanwhile, Liberia coach Ansumana Keita has assembled his best arsenal of foreign-based players led by captain William Jebor, Oscar Dorley, Sampson Dweh, Mo Sangare, Mark Pabai, Boison Wyennh De Sousa, Abrahim M. Soumaoro, Nohan Kenneh, Albert Kolvah, Daniel Toe, Abu Razard Kamara, Joel Johnson, Tonia Tisdell and Abu Kamara.