Malawi’s Flames have one leg into the 2021 TotalEnergies Cameroon Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) round of 16 after holding Senegal’s Lions of Teranga to a goalless draw in their last Group B match at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam.
The precious point is enough for Malawi to reach the second round for the first time in three appearances at Afcon.
But the Flames still have to wait for confirmation as Senegal qualified as group winners with five points alongside Guinea, who tied on four points with Malawi after losing 2-1 to Zimbabwe in the other group’s encounter.
Malawi as we went to press were leading the third best long table alongside Cape Verde and on pole positon to make it as one of the four third-placed teams with four points.
The draw against Senegal did not come on a silver platter.
The Flames had to sweat blood to keep Africa’s top ranked team, who were beaten finalists in the last Afcon in Egypt three years ago, ensnared.
Following a historic 2-1 victory over Zimbabwe, the high-spirited
Flames players stepped into the pitch with a feel-good attitude, confident of providing an upset against a star studded Lions of Teranga led by Liverpool star Sadio Mane and the world best goalkeeper Chelsea’s Eduardo Mendy
The return of head of technical panel Mario Marian Marinica also meant the Flames now had a full technical panel.
Back home a horde of pledges from vociferous and passionate fans led by the first citizen President Lazarus Chakwera also kept motivation levels high.
Led by Zimbabwe game two-goal hero Frank Gabadinho Mhango and Khuda Muyaba as twin strikers and wide attackers Francisco Madinga and Micium Mhone, the Flames gave their all.
Knowing that a loss to Malawi would end their chances of automatic qualification to the knockout stage, Senegal were desperate for a goal and a battle of flying tackles ensued in central midfield between Chimwemwe Idana and John Banda against Abdou Diallo, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Idrissa Gueye.
The centre-back pairing of impressive Lawrence Chaziya and Dennis Chembezi and full backs Gomezgani Chirwa and Stanley Sanudi also came to the party, denying Mane, Habib Diallo and Boulaye Diaand the luxury of a goal.
However, the Liverpool attacker still threatened to make a mark in the opening minutes of the game.
He missed a good chance to put his team in the lead as he failed to keep his shot down from Bouna Sarr’s lovely cutback.
On other side, Mhango was unlucky as his set piece was deflected wide of Mendy’s goal.
Muyaba’s textbook long-range volley also forced Mendy to stretch as it zoomed just over the bar.
Chirwa also raced down the left flank and sent a curved shot on the top corner forcing Mendy to tip it over.
In the second half, Senegal stepped up their game and Malawi had to thank man-of-the-match, Flames second choice goalkeeper Charles Thom, who made some tremendous saves in his competitive debut.
The Silver Strikers goalkeeper pulled off a fine flying save to keep out Diallo’s effort before producing another great save from Idrissa Gueye’s well taken free kick.
Marinica made some tactical changes introducing Yamikani Chester to replace Micium Mhone while Richard Mbulu stepped in for Khuda Muyaba.
Gerald Phiri Jnr and Robin Ngalande also had a fling after coming in to replace Chimwemwe Idana and Francisco Madinga as Malawi opted to shore up the midfield.
Malawi was awarded a penalty in the 73rd when Gomezgani Chirwa was brought down by Senegal’s defender in the box.
But the decision was turned down by video assistant referee (VAR) ending a premature celebration from the Flames technical bench.
Despite the disappointing decision, Malawi held on and managed to hold the Lions of Teranga to start a waiting game on their fate.
Marinica praised his charges for their fighting spirit. But he felt VAR was unfair after overturning the penalty.