It’s all over for the Flames. Their fall from grace confirmed by their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe’s Warriors yesterday. As their spirit battered by this barren campaign, their soul tourn apart by the crushing weight of failure and their future complicated by the doomed journey that yielded nothing.
And so it is the Warriors who will be heading to Gabon next year and such was their luxury that they reached the promised land with a game to spare as the Flames were left searching their soul after yet another failed campaign.
Flames coach Ernest ‘Wire’ Mtawali promised to qualify for the continental showpiece when he was hired for this job in August last year, but it was just a mere fantasy.
And with his voice straining with emotion, Mtawali could only apologise to Malawians in a post-match interview monitored on Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS) radio.
“It is a very disappointing result. Our campaign to qualify for Gabon is over, but the result is not a true reflection of the game. We started well [but] we made two mistakes and got punished.
“In the second half, we also started well but we failed to make good use of the chances we created. I will not blame anyone though.
“I apologise to Malawians, we are very sorry but we will do our best to win the Cosafa Cup. It’s not the end of the world,” he said.
The Flames still anchor Group L with two points and remain winless in five games and their last fixture is against Swaziland who edged Guinea 1-0 in Mbabane yesterday.
Led by their two playmakers—Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat—the Warriors eased the pain they had inflicted on their loyal fans for the past 10 years and fittingly, there were tears of boundless joy in Zimbabwe as they celebrated their team’s third Afcon qualification.
After a balanced first 15 minutes, the hosts drew first blood in the 16th minute through a penalty kick awarded after a dangerously advancing Musona was fouled by Flames ‘keeper Charles Swini.
The silence that engulfed the stadium as the Warriors skipper stepped up to take the penalty was deafening. Thousands of fans inside the stadium and, albeit millions following the proceedings on television, held their breath.
He fooled Swini by dropping his shoulders as if he was firing into the left corner—and as the goal minder dived to his right, Musona cooly placed it on the other side—no fuss, no panic, job done. It was as simple as the cheeks of a newly-born baby.
The only chance for the Flames in this half came through a free kick, which was well-curled by midfielder Joseph Kamwendo—the most outstanding player for the Flames—but sadly there was no one to provide the final flourish and relief was the prevalent emotion around the stadium.
In the 37th minute, it was Billiat’s turn with a superb finish after being put through by Onismor Bhasera to make it 2-0.
Mtawali made three changes in the course of the match, taking out John ‘CJ’ Banda for Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango and then Wonder Jeremani for Micium Mhone and Mhone—who appeared out of sorts on the big stage—was substituted for Muhammad Sulumba, but the Flames could not just find the formula to get past the Warriors.
And Cuthbert Malajila, who was thrown in as a substitute, hammered the final nail on the coffin in the 88th minute when he headed home a cross from Musona. It was game over!
Flames line-up: Swini, Stanley Sanudi, Francis Mlimbika, John Lanjesi, Harry Nyirenda, Kamwendo, Jeremani (Mhone) (Sulumba), Banda (Gabadinho), Rafique Namwera, Chiukepo Msowoya, Peter Wadabwa.