After the Flames’ failed 2018 Championship of African Nations (Chan) campaign, Ronny van Geneugden’s (RVG) maiden voyage, as coach in the rough terrain of African safari, switches to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) when they roll out their Group B campaign this afternoon against Les Coelecantes of Comoros.
The setting is Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe where the Belgian tactician is hoping to chalk his first victory as he steps up his drive to turn the ingredients of the Flames into an appetising dish with his pass-and-move philosophy.
RVG on Thursday said while the target is to start the campaign with a win, he expects his charges to turn on a pass-and-move game by knocking the ball around with remarkable grace and intelligence.
“The most important thing is to get a result while playing positive football and not building up a wall. My target is to knock the ball around with purpose. We should be able to string five to six passes and get the fans behind us.
“It will be a tough game, but with home support, we should have an edge. Over and above that, the players should be able to execute the game plan,” he said.
He believes that he has selected players that have depth in talent and have technical and tactical abilities.
However, RVG said he expects the team from the archipelago to put up a big fight.
“We have done some homework on them. They have assembled a good team with individual talent and some of them play in France, England and Turkey.
“We saw clips of their games against Togo, Gabon and Mauritius and we have been analysing their style of play to see how best we can approach the game,” he said.
Flames on-field leader Limbikani ‘Pupa’ Mzava said although Comoros are ranked 27 places below Malawi on117th, they cannot toy around with the idea of underrating them.
“We do not have such luxury. I have no idea how they play, but the fact that they booted out Mauritius [in the preliminaries] and that they have a number of Europe-based players in their fold, should give us food for thought.
“Nevertheless, we are ready and I am urging the fans to come and cheer us on as they always do. We need to use home ground advantage to the full,” he said.
The Flames skipper said they need to win their home matches if they are to keep their qualification hopes on the boil.
However, what has frustrated a lot of Flames fans, and for a good reason too, is that their team plays good football and creates quite a plethora of chances, but somehow fails to take them.
The Flames have not scored in the past three games—against Madagascar (twice) and Kenya—translating to over 270 minutes as the last time they scored was in their dead rubber 2017 Afcon qualifier against Swaziland’s Sihlangu which they won 1-0 through Gerald ‘Papa’ Phiri Jnr’s seventh minute strike in September last year.
But the availability of South Africa-based duo of Phiri and Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango alongside Frank and John ‘CJ’ Banda from Mozambique, has raised hopes for the hosts.
Today’s encounter will be the first between the two teams.
Comoros team manager Ben Amir Saadi was quoted by ESPN as saying: “Our objective is to qualify for the 2019 Africa Nations Cup. We do not plan to just make up the numbers. We have ambitions and we hope to display that in the qualifiers.”
According to ESPN, coach Amir Abdou has been cleverly growing the size and competency of his selection pool since taking the job in January 2014, looking extensively to the expatriate community in Europe and convincing players of Comorian descent to throw in their lot with the national team.
He now has 15 Europe-based professionals from clubs in countries as widespread as Belgium, England, France, Greece, Spain, Sweden and Turkey available for selection, and is seeking a winning start to the campaign.
“I have a homogeneous squad that has been formed since 2014 and is growing steadily. The team is getting better with time.
“Our squad is quite young but does not lack quality. Our selection is constantly increasing and this is due especially to players who play in the European league. There is quality in the Comoros but our expatriates certainly bring added value,” he was quoted as saying.
To qualify for the group stages, Comoros beat Mauritius 3-1 on aggregate (2-0 home win and 1-1 draw away). They briefly camped in France for today’s match where they played a friendly match against Togo which they lost 2-0. They also held Gabon to a 1-all draw in a friendly match recently.
Reports filtering in say that RVG plans to pack the midfield with six players by applying a 3-6-1 formation with Phiri and Gabadinho featuring as attacking midfielders behind lone striker Jabulani Linje. Mzava, John Lanjesi and Dennis Chembezi—who is set to make his debut—will form the rearguard.
Flames possible line-up: Charles Swine/Ernest Kakhobwe; Mzava (C), Lanjesi, Chembezi; John Banda, Frank Banda, Chikoti Chirwa, Stanley Sanudi, Gabadinho, Phiri Jnr, Linje.