Malawi national football team, the Flames, enter the Kamuzu Stadium artificial turf against Swaziland’s Sihlangu in 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification dead rubber with the hope of salvaging the team’s battered pride.
With no win in five games and anchoring the four-team Group L with two points, the Flames fate is sealed even if they get a cricket score victory.
However, caretaker coach Nsanzurwimo Ramadhan yesterday said they will leave nothing to chance in a bid to pluck a win because victory will not only restore the nation’s football pride, but also help the Flames improve from position 133 on Fifa rankings while building momentum for the next assignments.
“Although we are already out of the competition, this match is as important as a cup final. A win will put a smile back on Malawians faces, assist players build confidence ahead of the next competition,” said Ramadhan.
Flames captain Limbikani Mzava said although the game seems to have attracted lukewarm interest from the home-crowd following the team’s recent poor results, they will do the needful to pluck a win.
“Malawians are not happy with the team’s performance and we cannot blame them.
It is now up to us [players] to fight and regain their trust in the team. We are ready for the challenge,” he said.
“We do not care how we will start the game because what matters most is how we are going to end it.”
Despite that, the statistics are in favour of the Flames who also have home-ground advantage.
Since September 1968, Malawi has won 10 of their 19 games against Swaziland in competitions and international
Sihlangu have won three matches while six games ended in draws.
Their last two meetings ended in draws—1-1 in an international friendly in 2011 and 2-2 in the 2017 Afcon qualifier first-leg in September 2015.
Nevertheless, statistics and home-ground advantage have recently evolved to become of little importance in modern football; hard work and subtle game tactics seem to have gained impetus.
As for Swaziland coach Harries Bulunga, who arrived with his charges on Friday afternoon, a win will not only
end their poor away record, but also increase their chances of making it to the finals as the best runners-up.
They are second with eight points while Zimbabwe, who have already qualified, are at the summit with 11 points.
Guinea, who take on Zimbabwe in their last qualifier, are third.
“This is a must-win game for us if we are to increase our chances of making it to Gabon. We know we will face hostility
from the home-crowd, but that will have no negative effect on us because our mind is already made up on what we should do to earn a victory,” said Bulanga.