Flames coach Ronny Van Geneugden (RVG) says his Flames rebuilding exercise is on course with 90 percent of the team’s first XI done so far.
The coach, who has one year left on his contract, says he has so far succeeded in creating pool of regular players for the Flames from which 90 percent of the first XI is derived from.
“Since I selected players for the first match against Comoros, I have created a pool that is growing with every game. The first XI selection has progressed from 70 to 90 percent now. If these players maintain their performance at their clubs and do not get injured, yes this is our first team for many years,” he said.
RVG also said after Tuesday’s international friendly against Uganda—which was the last official match before they face Morocco in their next 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier—he believes they are set for the challenge.
“There has been good organisation, solid performances playing away from home in quite a number of games now. So, I would say yes, our objective has been a success because we have not been conceding goals,” he said.
So far, RVG seems to be contented with starting Mozambique goalkeeper Charles Swini with Brighton Munthali as his first substitute. Defenders Limbikani Mzava (captain), Gomezgani Chirwa, Stanley Sanudi and Dennis Chembezi form the coach’s backbone in RVG’s first XI.
Midfielders so far in most of his starting line-ups have been Frank and John Banda, Robert Ng’ambi, Robin Ngalande and Gerald Phiri Jnr while for strikers, the Belgian has often trusted Gabadinho Mhango and Richard Mbulu.
Defending midfielder Chikoti Chirwa was one of RVG’s favourites. He, alongside Chembezi, has played more than any other local player in RVG’s first XI ever since their debut against Comoros last year. But Chikoti is no longer available due official duties at Malawi Defence Force (MDF).
Zambia-based Dalitso Sailesi is usually preferred as substitute, but he is sometimes thrown into the fray in the absence of other key players.
Righteous Banda, Levison Maganizo, Fletcher Bandawe and Jabulani Linje are also RVG’s key players, having survived in the squad since last year. But after moving to Japan, Linje has lost the attention of RVG.
Defenders John Lanjesi, Yamikani Fodya, Miracle Gabeya and winger Felix Zulu were once favourites but now struggle even to make it into the final squad.
RVG has also opted for up-and-coming players from junior Flames and says he will continue giving them a chance.
During Tuesday’s friendly against Uganda, RVG handed a debut to Under-20 players Patrick Phiri and Precious Sambani.
“Patrick was good after he came in for Sailesi and played behind the strikers. Precious played a full game as left fullback. I will continue giving them [up-and-coming players] such exposure but otherwise, we now almost have a first XI. I look forward to the next assignments in South Africa Cosafa Cup and Morocco in September without many changes,” said RVG.
But despite getting some credit for the team’s defensive and passing flair, RVG is now under pressure to start winning games.
RVG has registered two wins against Comoros in African Cup of Nations (Afcon) and a friendly against Togo and drawn seven against Mauritius, Angola, Kenya Morocco and Lesotho.
He has so far lost three times—twice to Madagascar in Championship of African Nations (Chan) and once to Tanzania.
Soccer analyst Charles Nyirenda said while having a first XI is necessary, winning games was the most important thing.
He said: “Look at it this way; you may have a first XI but not win games. Then you may not have a first XI, but win games. Which one is better? While we appreciate having a first XI, such questions arise when the team is not winning games. So, the most important thing is, therefore, winning games and all the pieces fall into place because you cannot change a team that is winning. These two things go together.” n