Eleven years after their last appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), the Flames are set to make an emotional return to the African safari this evening when they face Guinea’s Syli Nationale in their opening Group B match at Stade Omnisports de Bafoussam in Cameroon.
It will be Malawi’s third appearance at the continental showpiece and this time they will be out to go a step further and reach the knockout stages.
And despite the Covid-19 drawback which has led to eight players being unavailable for selection, the Flames are determined to start brightly this evening.
The match kicks off at 6pm local time.
Flames captain Limbikani Mzava said in an interview yesterday that they are raring to go.
He said: “We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that it is a tough situation. We needed everyone available as we kick-start this campaign.
“But we cannot cry over split milk and we are prepared to fight for our nation. It is a chance for every player to prove his worth.”
In absence of interim coach Marian Mario Marinica, Meck Mwase, who was demoted to an assistant coach, will be back in charge, albeit temporarily to effect the Romanian’s style of play.
Mwase said although they will be some players, they are ready for the game.
“We’ll have to accept the situation because Guinea have also been hit by Covid-19,” he said.
Marinica will not be on the sidelines after testing positive for Covid-19 and will follow the events as they unfold from the comfort of his hotel room.
Without about eight players unavailable for selection, including key members such as defender Stanley Sanudi, midfielders Robin Ngalande, Chikoti Chirwa and Charles Petro and striker Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango, the Flames will have to dig deep to grind a positive result.
Mzava will marshal the defence, which should also comprise Gomezgani Chirwa and Dennis Chembezi and Fodya, to guard towering goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe.
In midfield, Yamikani Chester, John ‘CJ’ Banda, Chimwemwe Idana and either Peter Banda or Fransisco Madinga are tipped to keep the engines running while Khuda Muyaba will partner Richard Mbulu upfront.
The Guineans will also be without defender Mikael Dyrestam, midfielder Morlaye Sylla and striker Seydouba Soumah, who were left behind at their training base in Rwanda.
But they will be led by their England-based Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, who will be aided by France-based Lamine Bayo.
The two teams have met eight times and Malawi has won once, four ended in draws while Guinea have won three times.
On Fifa rankings, Guinea are ranked 72nd, 51 places above the Flames.