Flames unbeaten run at the Cecafa Challenge Cup ended miserably on Friday after losing 2-0 to lowly ranked South Sudan in a match where victory could have guaranteed them group C top finish and an easy quarter-final fixture.
Ethiopia’s area of Bahir Dar, where Malawi had proudly built a victorious reputation after beating Sudan 2-1 and Djibouti 3-0 to cruise to the last eight, suddenly became a peak of pain and concern.
South Sudan, widely viewed as underdogs, have now finished top of group C with seven points while Malawi dropped to second with six points. As we went to press, Sudan were playing Djibouti in the final group C match.
The result, as a matter of consequence, leaves Malawi with a tough quarter-final tussle against winners of group B which has hosts Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Somalia.
Team manager Clement Kafwafwa, a solid defender in his playing days, had insisted before departure, that their focus would be not to concede fast and first.
But in this particular encounter, the defensive discipline and the high level of concentration seen in the opening matches, somehow eluded Malawi because as early as eight minutes, they conceded through James Joseph Saeed.
After the game, Kafwafwa briefly remarked in a text message: “We were playing against very tall players. It was difficult for our players to cope.”
With his mind possibly suffocated by the quarter-final assignments next week, coach Earnest Mtawali made eight changes to the first 11 that secured the first victories, but, as the results showed, this was, for lack of a better word, a useless gamble.
Richard Chipuwa replaced Simplex Nthala in goals, Sankhani Mkandawire, for Miracle Gabeya, partnered John Lanjesi in central defence while right-back Stanley Sanudi was rested for Pilirani Zonda and debutant Levison Maganizo replaced Yamikani Fodya as left-back.
In midfield, Chimango Kayira and Dalitso Sailesi kept their places while Gerald Phiri Jnr and industrious John Banda paved the way for Yamikani Chester and Isaac Kaliati. Nelson Kangunje and Chawanangwa Kaonga took over the attacking roles from suspended Schumacher Kuwali and Chiukepo Msowoya.
This new-look squad’s weak and fragile start should have surely sent a terrible shock down Mtawali’s spine and as reality sunk in Bruno Martinez put the last nail on Flames coffin when he scored in injury time.
Mtawali and his boys must now brace for a rough Monday when they play in the quarter-finals, most probably their toughest hurdle on their path to glory.n