Flames coach Young Chimodzi tampered with Cosafa Plate Division winning side with disastrous consequences as Malawi lost 2-1 to Zimbabwe in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier yesterday.
Strikers Cuthbert Malajila and Khama Billiat—whose parents have Malawian roots—scored in the 20th and 82nd minutes respectively, sandwiching John Banda’s 21st minute goal to break Kamuzu Stadium full-house that trooped in red attire pregnant with expectations of victory, but left in tears and sorrow after 94 minutes.
The defeat instantly sent the Flames somersaulting to where they usually belong—the bottom of the Group L whose early leaders are Swaziland after the Siglangu pulled off a brave 2-1 win over Guinea in Casablanca, Morocco on Friday. Guinea are playing at neutral venue due to fears of Ebola virus.
After today’s show of horror, Chimodzi’s record stood at 22 games played—11 defeats, six wins and five draws. Yet after playing seven preparatory games, the coach had all the time to get his act right. He got it all wrong, raising questions whether his contract is going to be renewed.
Playing against the wind and with Cosafa plate winning goalkeeper Charles Swini benched alongside Gerald Phiri Junior, the Flames got off to a worse possible start, conceding three consecutive corner kicks. As has been the case under Chimodzi’s tenure, his defence played too many needless back and square passes. In midfield there was no ball winner and balls were pumped aimlessly forward.
Even in the midst of such football darkness, police officers Micium Mhone and Banda of Blue Eagles, when they had the ball, worked so hard like dedicated servants whereas striker Atusaye Nyondo and captain Joseph Kamwendo chased their shadows.
Therefore, few were surprised when defender Harry Nyirenda tried to clear a Zimbabwe shot while flat-footed. The Black Leopards defender kicked the air, allowing Zimbabwe striker Malajila to pick the gift and drill the ball into the net.
Flames response was instant, a minute later. Some neat passes in the Zimbabwe penalty box on the break saw striker Zicco Mkanda, who for all his work ethic was eventually pulled out for Esau Kanyenda while maintaining the ineffective Nyondo, flick the ball to Banda. The Blue Eagles winger, who also scored in Egypt on Monday, roofed the ball into the net.
The goal added life into Malawi attack, but it was clear that Zimbabwe coach Callisto Pasuwa had got his tactics right by deploying two holding midfielders Danny Phiri and Willard Katsande, who left Kamwendo and Chimango Kayira anonymous.
Visibly playing for a draw after a miserable trip to Malawi, having trained once and had a breakdown on the way to Blantyre, Zimbabwe ‘keeper Tatenda Mkuruva kept his side in the game when tipping over the bar Mhone’s header from Banda’s cross from the right.
From the resultant corner-kick, the Flames ended up earning two more straight corner-kicks which neither Nyirenda nor Mkanda could connect well. The first-half ended at 1-1.
The supposed Flames second-half response was never to be. Instead, Zimbabwe still started strongly while Malawi attacked in patches through Mhone, who alongside Phiri Jnr, won hearts in South Africa during the Cosafa Cup.
Soon fans got impatient and started calling for Phiri Jnr’s introduction. The chants happened minutes after Chimodzi unbelievably substituted hardworking Mkanda for Kanyenda while introducing error-prone Lucky Malata for John Lanjesi.
Malata’s bad contribution was instant. He misplaced a pass and gifted it to Billiat high in Zimbabwe’s half. The Mamelodi Sundowns attacker sped down his preferred left-wing and curled his cross-like shot into the top right of badly positioned Harawa.
Earlier, Nyondo headed wide from Mhone’s left-flank cross in what was the closest chance for this half.
The home fans soon started leaving the stadium. Eventually, Chimodzi reluctantly introduced Phiri Jnr on the 90th minute, but it was too late for the 22-year-old and Kanyenda, whose presence was greatly felt upfront, to have any effect on the game.
After playing seven preparatory games, Chimodzi before the game said there would be no excuses. In post-match interview, he admitted that his charges did not step up to the plate.
“We were not ourselves. We did not settle down, we thought we were operating as we usually do that is why I made those substitutions. . It is very tough now, but we still have to fight to the end,” Chimodzi said while Pasuwa said his charges stuck to game plan. Meanwhile, the result has left FAM president Walter Nyamilandu with no option but to call for an emergency executive committee meeting tomorrow afternoon to decide on the coaches’ future.