He was taunted and booed as if he were a serial town thief. It was too hard being lonely in the mid of 20 000-plus fans for the 21-year-old. Head down in dejection, Frank Gabadinho Mhango experienced all just that at Kamuzu Stadium on Wednesday.
Thankfully, the professionalism he is learning at Bloemfontein Celtic compelled him to change direction and, as per tradition, tap the outstretched palm of standing Chimodzi.
The clock read 52 minutes and with it Gabadinho’s transformation from hero to zero was complete. In came, Frank Banda who restored Malawi’s lead with a spinning header. In five minutes, Banda achieved what Gabadinho failed to do in 52 minutes of misplaced passes, heavy first touches, running into opponents and feigning injuries.
“For interviews, we have been instructed that it is only the captain who can talk,” said Mhango, while posing for photographs at the dressing room entrance where teammates were granted such interviews.
The up and down of a young player’s career can be deceiving, but they learn. Goalkeeper McDonald Harawa saved two penalties to send Malawi through last month. Yet he too was now a traitor. Ironically, Robin Ngalande, who was booed in that Benin match, was probably Wednesday’s man-of-the-match.
It is hard to believe Chimodzi’s pleas for patience that his team is young and under reconstruction. But the caps and ages of his squad vindicate him. There is similarity between inconsistent form and inexperience.
Aged 28, Ng’ambi and Kamwendo were the team’s oldest members with Mlimbika and Mzava being the youngest at 21 and 20. Gabadinho has 17 caps in two years, Mlimbika has six (one year), Harawa five (one year), Lucky Malata 10 (two years), John Lanjesi 19 (three years) and Ngalande 21 (four years). The starting XI’s average age was 23.
On Wednesday, the other guilty party was Harawa who let in substitute Yusuf Saleh’s direct free-kick in the 92nd minute. Harawa was also guilty of failing to cover the near post when conceding Getaneh Kebede’s 44th minute cancellation of Atusaye Nyondo’s 16th minute opener.
The last-gasp Ethiopia goal was Harawa’s fault as it was the whole team’s. Malawi took a huge risk to defend too deep and time-wasted by playing square balls with 15 minutes remaining, thereby allowing Ethiopian defence to move high up the pitch. Seniors such as Kamwendo, who played a grand game, and Ng’ambi, tossed the ball between each other.
Chimodzi, who switched into 4-4-2 from the previous 5-4-1, condemned this, saing “I think the concentration was not good. People were excited and gave the ball away which is not good for us.” Chimodzi needs to fill the gap of Hellings Mwakasungula midfield defensive role with either uncapped Mozambique’s based Idrissa Walesi or improvising George Nyirenda.
Fundamentally, when you defend, you must balance that with disciplined counter-attacks. Malawi, before Chiukepo Msowoya came in for Ng’ambi, just sat back. Earlier, the Flames’ transition from defence into attack lacked urgency. You counter with a long ball, the Flames did that with three too and slow short passes.
“By withdrawing into your own half, but keeping a man or two further up the pitch, the goal is to take the ball off the opponent while they have players committed to the attack and thus out of position,” advises Football Tactics manual.
Whether packing the squad with defenders, Malawi under Chimodzi has still let in 15 goals in 11 games, of three wins all in competitive six matches, five losses, and three draws, while scoring just nine. The Flames better play to their strength of attacking which is the best form of defending, former Malawi coach Eddingtone Ng’onamo told MBC on Thursday.
The win moved the Flames, who lost 2-0 in Mali on Sunday, off the bottom of the Group to third with three points at par with the second-placed Eagles who fell 1-0 in Algeria. Ethiopia dropped to the bottom with no point from two games.
Next home match for Malawi is against Algerians on October 10. The Flames qualified as third best losers for the 2010 Afcon with just a win and a draw or four points from a possible 18. Seven points must be just enough for the Flames provided they learn registering draws away. Zimbabwe-based Ishmael Thindwa, Gerald Phiri Junior and George Nyirenda could be worth looking at. Otherwise, this is Flames work in progress.