In a welcome interruption to footballâ€™s team spirit mantra of â€˜all for one, one for allâ€™ or put simply you win or lose as a team, Sportsxtra picks some gold pieces from the rubble of the Flames fifth consecutive draw (1-1) against Nigeriaâ€™s Super Eagles in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday.
In coming off the bench to stab in the injury time leveller, Blue Eagles workaholic John Banda taught Flames coach Kinnah Phiri a lesson that, perhaps it is time he gambled more on fielding more TNM Super League stars instead of sticking to some off-form foreign-based players.
Bandaâ€™s goal was his second in eight games, only three of which he has played for the entire regulation time. And in case you think it was just a fluke, the last time the Flames earned a scoring draw in Zanzibar, it was Bandaâ€™s Silver Strikers elder brother Frank who scored a fortnight ago.
â€œI am hoping to build on my performance. Hopefully, I have made my case for a starting position,â€ said John Banda in a post-match interview.
And, in case some doubt the capability of the domestic stars, it was Frank Banda and Joseph Kamwendo of Mighty Wanderers who were on target in the 2-2 draw against China Under-22.
Needless to point out, goals seem to be coming relatively more from midfielders than strikers. Atusaye Nyondoâ€™s brace in Chad early this year was the last a forward did their job right.
While Nyondo, Robin Ngalande and another local Chimango Kaira each had an average of two clear chances to score, it is safe to say Kamwendo was perhaps man-of-the-match playing like he was possessed.
Upfront, it does not need sharpness of mind to see that Russell Mwafulirwa is a man battling for his match fitness. But only Kinnah sees things differently, obviously placing faith in the South Africa-based manâ€™s big frame.
Mwafulirwa had three attempts; a header off target, a shot over the bar and one on target before he was dragged out in the 57th minute for Chiukepo Msowoya. If Mwafulirwa was bad, then Msowoya, once Flamesâ€™ saviour-in-chief, was worse.
Common fact for both strikers is that they do not play regularly at club level. It is unthinkable to expect them to score on the grander stage of World Cup qualifiers.
But Flames caretaker captain Moses Chavula insisted â€œscoring is collective responsibility.â€
Problems persist upfront where the goals have dried up and this was seen coming a few years ago, when Kinnah killed the wings, opting to play wide midfielders or improvise strikers instead of conventional wingers.
On Saturday, the left-wing had no worthwhile occupant as Kamwendo tried to link up play with stand-in captain and left-back Chavula, the Wanderers man often drifted deep in midfield.
On the right-wing, Ngalande tried some crosses, but he, too, could hardly have been described as having performed the roles of a winger. Just as Kamwendo, Ngalande operated too deep as it was obvious Kinnah wanted them to mind more defensive duties.
Ngalande, though did enough to show his class with his top decision making, split vision, passing and runs, which unfortunately, some of his teammates could not read. He could pass the ball, run onto space waiting in vain for the return ball.
On the heart of the pitch, attacking midfielder Kaira, who should have done better when thrice given delightful passes, sat too deep and isolated from Mwafulirwa and Nyondo. The duo was forced to operate deep and fetch the ball.
Nyondo is a penalty-box player, insisted his South Africa club SuperSport coach Gavin Hunt recently when The Nation asked for the secret in the playerâ€™s improved form.
â€œI feature him as a number nine. It depends on how you [Flames] guys field him, but I ask him to stay more in the box,â€ Hunt said some months ago.
At the back, defenders started the match jittery, taking seconds too long to clear the ball with leadership clearly found wanting, thanks to James Sangala and Limbikani Mzava, Foster Namwela and Chavula, who appeared to struggle with Nigeria attacker Victor Moses, covered each other well.
The 89th Gabriel Reuben free-headed-goal came before injured Sangala had returned from receiving treatment. With his experience, Sangala would not have allowed Reuben such a free header.
Adding to the defensive steel was goalkeeper Simplex Nthala whose timely reaction and narrowing of his near-post angle denied Nigerian dangerman Ikechukwu Uche three times when the Granada FC player breached Malawi defence.
â€œIt is so frustrating creating so many chances but not scoring. Anyway, a draw, loss or a win are all part of the game,â€ Nthala told the press in post-match interviews.
How the Flames will stay focused in the face of the obvious pressure from baying for the coachâ€™s blood would determine if the â€˜virusâ€™ that has infected the World Cup campaign has also not infected the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations campaign.
We may learn more from the Flames against Chad this Saturday. For now, it looks scary.