Despite Malawi’s failure to qualify for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Flames coach Meck Mwase feels the campaign has been a good platform to prepare for 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.
Malawi bowed out of the qualification race after four matches—three losses to Ivory Coast (back-to-back 3-0 and 2-1), 2-0 loss to Cameroon and a 1-0 victory over Mozambique.
However, Mwase said the four matches have helped the team to gauge its readiness for the Afcon finals set for Cameroon in January 2022.
Said the coach: “I did mention that the World Cup qualifiers will be one of the ways of preparing for the tournament. Playing big teams such as Cameroon and Ivory Coast was a good platform to learn where we are lacking and how to improve.”
Mwase said the campaign has helped in identifying some shortfalls both as a team and in individual players.
He said: “There are some things which we have learnt from the campaign as a team and as individual players as well such as positioning and quick decision-making when faced with tough situations.
“Concentration starts on the day we go into camp. But it seems when we start the match, we lose it and end up conceding early.”
Mwase said some players have also demonstrated that they have a bright future with the Flames while others need to pull up their socks.
He said: “Khuda Muyaba had a brilliant game. He carried the responsibility on his shoulders. I must thank him for that brilliant goal.”
On Orlando Pirates striker Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango, who continues his search for a goal since his last one in 2019 against South Sudan in Afcon qualifiers, Mwase said the player needs time to turn the corner.
He said: “We saw that Gaba was not having a good day, that’s why we had to pull him out immediately.”
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president Walter Nyamilandu also stood by the coach and the team, saying Malawi showed maturity and improvement in the second leg against Ivory Coast.
He said: “Our improved performance is a huge stepping stone going into the Africa Cup of Nations finals. We needed the experience of playing football at such a high level with top players to test our ability to compete. So far, the performance is encouraging as it shows growth and resilience.
“The Flames coped very well against pressure of stars and without our captain Limbikani Mzava and key forward Richard Mbulu. On another day, we could have shared the spoils if it wasn’t for the dubious penalty.”
He also claimed that the Flames were victims of biased officiation against them, saying: “We were denied a clear penalty and they [Ivory Coast] were given a dubious penalty.”
The Flames play their last qualifiers against Cameroon at home and Mozambique away next month.
With just the group leaders making it to the third and final round, Monday’s results mean that Malawi and Mozambique’s Mambas are practically out of the battle for qualification since they cannot overtake leaders Ivory Coast even if they win each of their remaining two qualifiers.
Ivory Coast lead the group with 10 points followed by Cameroon, who beat Mozambique 1-0 in the other Group D match, with nine points.
The Flames are third with three points while Mozambique anchor the group with just a point.
The battle for the qualification is now between the two West Africans who clash in the last round of the group’s qualifiers next month.