Amid the pain inflicted by persistent failure, the Flames set about their 2018 Championship of African Nations (Chan) campaign this afternoon against the Barea of Madagascar, under a new coach, hoping to take the first step in exorcising the ghost of countless doomed missions in the jungles of African football.
The contest—slated for Mahamusa Municipal Stadium in the Indian Ocean island nation’s capital Anatananarivo—will kick off at 2.30pm local time.
It will be coach Ronny van Geneugden’s first competitive match in his quest to turn the ingredients of the Flames side into an appetising dish.
While the Belgian mentor stressed that there would be no quick fixes to the Flames woes during his unveiling, in an interview with Weekend Nation on Thursday, Van Geneugden said he is hoping for a good result against a side ranked 20 places below his team (120).
“It will be a hard game, it’s never easy playing away. We have information that there is a lot of pressure from the people of Madagascar that they must get a good result and the stadium will be full.
“So, we shouldn’t concentrate much on their ranking, but I have a feeling that we will have a good result and then get it over and done with in the return leg at home.
“The motivation is good, the morale is good,” said van Geneugden sounding ice-cool.
He added that the focus on training has been on tactical approach considering that they are playing away.
“We also had to work on the psychological aspects to ensure that the players are mentally strong and focused going into the match.”
Team captain Dave Banda said they are not under pressure in the countdown to the showdown.
“We are very much at ease, but at the same time we are aware of the task at hand. The plan is to unsettle them by getting an early goal. We will give it our best shot,” he said.
According to Football Association of Malawi (FAM) vice-president James Mwenda who is the team leader, the coach also dwelt at length on evaluating the friendly match against Kenya’s Harambee Stars that took place on Tuesday in Nairobi where the Flames held the hosts to a goalless draw.
“He worked on rectifying the shortcomings. That said, the morale in camp is high and the players are aware of the importance of this match,” he said.
The Flames were scheduled to get the feel of the match venue in the afternoon yesterday.
Madagascar coach Auguste Raux was quoted by Le Express yesterday as saying he expects a tough match against the Flames.
“The choice for the final squad was not easy because all the players were good, but we have retained the majority of our key players. Hopefully playing at home will give us an edge,” he said.
While van Geneugden will bank his hopes on Banda, a battle-hardened midfielder in the mould of a tiger, his counterpart will look up to Jeannot Vombola who won the 2015 Cosafa Cup edition Golden Boot Award.
Van Geneugden has been preaching the gospel about introducing a free-flowing passing game so as to keep possession but his opponents will also need to exercise a lot of caution against a side that has scored five goals in their past three matches.
And just like he did against Kenya, he is tipped to apply a defensive 4-5-1 formation, with Ernest Kakhobwe in goals, Stanley Sanudi, Francis Mlimbika, Lucky Malata and John Lanjesi in defence. His subtle engine that is Banda will man the midfield which is also likely to include Chimango Kaira, Simeon Singa or Yamikani Chester, Kelvin Hanganda and Gilbert Chirwa—with Muhammad Sulumba as the lone striker.
Madagascar have won two of their last three matches against Sao Tome de Principe (1-0 and 3-2) in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) preliminary qualifiers and drew the other against Angola’s Negras Palancas 1-1 in a 2017 Afcon qualifier.
On the other hand, the Flames have won once against Swaziland’s Sihlangu, drawn once against Kenya’s Harambee Stars 0-0 and lost once to Lesotho’s Likuena 1-0 in the quarter-finals of the 2016 edition of the Cosafa Cup.
The two teams have met seven times and each has won three times, drawing the other. The last time they met was in the Cosafa Castle Cup last year in which the Flames won 1-0.