Flames coach Meke Mwase says Malawi’s opponents in the 2022 Qatar World Cup preliminary round qualifiers, Botswana’s Zebras should be respected, but not feared.
Mwase’s sentiments follow a draw conducted yesterday in Cairo, Egypt, which saw the Flames paired against the fellow Council for Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) member.
But the coach described the draw as tricky and called for thorough preparations.
The two sides last met in 2018 at the Cosafa Cup in a match that ended one-all after the Zebras cancelled Precious Sambani’s goal.
“I cannot say it is fair or tough. We have to respect all our opponents, but not be afraid of them. All we need to do is to prepare well for the qualifiers,” he said.
The draw saw 26 highest ranked teams, based on the July Fifa rankings, exempted from the preliminary round, leaving 28 participating teams in that round.
Out of the 28 teams, the 14 highest ranked teams, including Malawi, were paired against the 14 least ranked teams.
The first leg of the qualifiers will be played at the home of the least ranked team, which means Malawi, ranked 126 will start away to Botswana, ranked 147.
Both legs will be played within eight days from September 2 to 10 this year.
The 14 winners from this round will join the 26 seeded teams in the group stage.
The teams will be divided into 10 groups of four teams.
The last half of the year will be a busy one for the Flames, who will also be involved in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers.
The Flames will kick off their Afcon Group B qualifiers with back-to-back matches between November 11 and 19.
Malawi hosts the preliminary round winner between South Sudan and Seychelles before flying to Uganda to face Uganda’s Cranes, according to a fixture released by Confederation of African Football (CAF) last week.
Mwase said the Flames need to prepare well for the qualifiers since they will be played at the same time.
Soccer analyst George Chiusiwa has called on Football Association of Malawi (FAM) to give Mwase enough support.
“We saw his predecessor [Ronny Van Geneugden], playing friendly matches on all Fifa calendar dates. I hope it will be the same for Mwase as Malawi plays these crucial qualifiers. I am confident that Malawi can qualify in both competitions,” he said.