Malawi national football team yesterday set up a Cosafa Cup quarter-final clash against neighbours Zambia’s Chipolopolo after coming from behind to beat 2015 champions Namibia 2-1 at King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi, Durban, South Africa.
The Flames proved their 3-0 win over lowly-ranked Seychelles was not a fluke by following it up with yet another good performance as they came from behind to qualify for the knockout stage for the first time in four years with a game in hand.
Malawi will still top the table even if they lose to Mozambique in their final group game since Namibia will still finish second if they win or draw their last match against Seychelles.
The tournament’s first tie-breaker is head-to-head comparison.
After a calm start, Namibia drew first blood in the 16th minute when Charles Vetunuavi Hambira caught Malawi defence flat-footed and headed in from a corner kick, but Frank Gabadinho Mhango levelled just before recess in the 43rd minute with a thunderous strike from almost an impossible angle deep in the box, before Gerald Phiri Jnr scored the winner from the spot in the 48th minute.
The result means Malawi top Group B table with six points while Namibia are second with three points.
Mozambique and Seychelles, who drew 0-0, lie third and fourth with a point each following their goalless draw ahead of the last set of group matches.
Knowing that a winning team needs to be maintained, caretaker coach Meke Mwase maintained the first XI that hammered Seychelles 3-0 in the opening match.
Goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe was excellent in goals.
He made some good saves to stop Namibia’s offensive spearheaded by their playmaker Joslin Mbatjulia Kamatuka.
The Brave Warriors, however, still snatched the lead when Hambira rose to nod in from the resultant corner kick after Kakhobwe stopped Kamatuka in one-on-one situation.
But the Flames staged a fierce comeback to level the scores before recess.
An aerial battle in the danger zone allowed Gabadinho to sneak behind the defence and fire home a freaked ball at close range.
Phiri Jnr doubled the lead just after recess from the spot kick after Mbulu was cut down in the box by Vutapi Vitapi Ngaruka.
Though Malawi have a reputation of conceding in dying minutes, this time Mwase’s boys showed they meant business when they proclaimed earlier that the Flames had entered a new era as they held on to the lead.
In fact, Gabadinho should have made it 3-1 in added on time but Namibia keeper Loydt Jaseuavi Kazapua miraculously kept out his shot.
Though a big achievement for Mwase, the coach downplayed the feat.
“It was a tough game. It was 50-50. That’s why you saw all the smiles on the players. But the battle is still on as we face Zambia in the quarterfinal,” he said.
His counterpart Collin Benjamin said lack of experience cost them the match since they brought a team of local players only.
“I would say lack of experience cost us the game,” he said.
Captain John CJ Banda, who was named man of the match, thanked his teammates for reaching the knockout stage.