Malawi national football team face Zambia’s Chipolopolo today in Cosafa Cup quarter-final at Princess Magogo Stadium in Durban, South Africa.
The Flames will be hoping that their fairytale journey at the regional competition soars as they face the noisy neighbours who, ironically, call Malawians ‘achimwene’. (brothers)
Indeed, there is no love lost between the two sides who share a lot in common in terms of style of play and have over the years forged a bitter-sweet rivalry.
After a strong start which saw the Flames beat Seychelles 3-0, Namibia 2-1 before a one-all draw against Mozambique to finish top in Group B, the Flames are fired up to make it to the semi-finals.
The last time Malawi played Zambia at Cosafa Cup was in 2015 when Malawi beat their counterparts in the Plate final.
But memories are still fresh how Zambia knocked out Malawi in the Under-23 African Cup of Nations in April this year.
Flames interim coach Meke Mwase was in charge of the Under-23 team and has nothing but revenge on his mind.
Mwase, whose side is unbeaten, has miraculously turned the Flames from an underachiever at the tournament to favourites this year.
The very same players that were failing to score more than two goals in 20 matches against minnows such as Seychelles, are now scoring at will.
Bidvest Wits striker Frank Gabadinho Mhango has rediscovered his magic and is inspiring the youthful Flames.
With three goals already to his credit, Gaba has been the most lethal striker at the tournament this far.
Baroka FC newly-signed striker Richard Mbulu and Ajax midfielder Gerald Phiri Jnr have also been in their own class.
With Mozambique-based John CJ Banda providing the leadership and inspiration to debutants such as Peter Banda and Charles Petro, Malawi’s hopes are high.
CJ Banda, Gaba and Phiri Jnr have already produced man-of-the-match performances in all three group matches and Mwase will be banking on them if Malawi is to make it to the last four.
But this evening’s match against Zambia will not be a stroll in the park. The battle will take an all new dimension as the big guns join the tournament in knockout stage.
The Flames will have to seal all loopholes at the back that have seen them fail to defend set pieces and concede silly goals from dead balls.
Mwase’s charges also need to stop being wasteful in the box or they will be shot down by the Copper Bullets.
“We know what to do. We have worked on the shortfalls noticed from the three group matches. It’s going to be a very tough game, knowing that Zambia have always been a tough opponent for us. But we will be ready for them,” said the soft-spoken coach.
Captain CJ Banda also promised that the players are willing to die a little for their country.
“We are not underrating them. We are just ready for them. After playing three games, we are hot and ready,” he said.
After failing to qualify for the Egypt Afcon final just like Malawi, Zambia’s Chipolopolo are hoping to console their fans by winning the Cosafa Cup.
Chipolopolo stand-in coach Aggrey Chiyangi has named the cream of the national league, including Zesco United forward Lazarus Kambole, Ernest Mbewe, Kelvin Kampamba, Bruce Musakanya and Tapson Kaseba.
Their national league top scorer in-form Forest Rangers midfielder Austin Muwowo, who has netted 10 goals so far, has made the cut alongside Nkhwazi striker Emmanuel Chabula, who has scored seven goals for the Zambia police outfit.
The locals will be out to prove that they deserve a place in the main Chipolopolo team which is in North Africa to play international friendly matches against Cameroon, Gambia and Morocco under assistant coach Beston Chambeshi.
The Zambians last won the Cosafa Cup in 2013 while their best performance was in 2002 and 2003 when Malawi lost to South Africa and Zimbabwe, respectively.
The winner between Malawi and Zambia advances to the semi-finals to meet the winner between Uganda and Lesotho.
Quarter-finals losers will play each other in the Plate semi-finals.