Flames’ 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification campaign rolls into life this afternoon when they engage the Warriors of Zimbabwe in a potentially touchy showdown. The setting is Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre.
Flames captain Joseph Kamwendo and coach Young Chimodzi on Thursday said they are yearning for a dream start which could prove vital in their quest for a third appearance at Africa’s premier football showpiece.
Despite failing to win the regional Cosafa Cup recently when they were kicked out through post-match penalties by Mozambique’s Mambas in the quarter-finals, the nation seems to have been charmed by the solid performance of a predominantly youthful brigade who atoned for the disappointment by winning the Plate phase after seeing off South Africa’s Bafana Bafana and Zambia’s Chipolopolo.
Thousands of fans are, therefore, expected to troop to the domestic ceremonial home of football to cheer their team on yet another adventure in the jungles of African football.
Humiliation in one’s backyard is the worst form of failure, especially when you are up against a side embroiled in a financial crisis and your skipper sets the hype for the encounter by declaring that they will fight every inch of the way.
“We are set for the battle and I am optimistic that we will burn the Warriors on Saturday if we can keep up the momentum and approach the game with the right frame of mind.
“I also want to reiterate my call to the fans to rally behind us with vocal support because we always rely on them for inspiration. They have always been a big part of us,” said Kamwendo.
The TP Mazembe midfield maestro added: “We need to score an early goal so as to unsettle the opponents bearing in mind that we will be playing at home. It is always important to win the first game because it helps build confidence and enthusiasm”.
He said his belief stems from a surge of national pride within the squad.
On his part Chimodzi said after a series of preparatory matches that included the Cosafa Cup, he now has a picture of the right combinations and formation for this afternoon’s clash.
“I would say I am happy with the preparations that we have had ahead of this tie and there will be no excuse if things do not go our way. However, I hope the guys will play according to instructions and give out their all.
“There is need to prepare them psychologically so that they can hold on to their nerve when the temperature rises,” said Chimodzi.
He, however, kept a tight lid on his game plan, “suffice to say we’ll use an attack-minded approach.”
The Flames were an oasis of calm as they went through their final paces yesterday under the watchful eye of Chimodzi and Chamangwana.
Very few coaches have the luxury to toss a coin on which goalkeeper to use, well in McDonald Harawa and Charles Swini, Chimodzi has that luxury.
Limbikani Mzava, Harry Nyirenda, John Lanjesi and Yamikani Fodya are tipped to form the rearguard while Kamwendo and Chimango Kaira are expected to keep the engines running at the centre of the pack with—Gerald Phiri Jnr and Micium Mhone—orchestrating play from the wings.
The rhythm in attack could be potent if either free-scoring John Banda or Robin Ngalande plays just behind battle-hardened Esau Kanyenda or Atusaye Nyondo.
On the other hand, despite problems that have rocked their camp, the Warriors seem to have quickly shifted their attention to bid for a place at the 2017 Nations Cup in Gabon.
Despite the players having to assemble at short notice and training just for a day, coach Callisto Pasuwa was quoted by the Zimbabwe media as saying he was happy with the “players’ attitude and commitment’’.
“I am happy with the spirit that these players have shown. I have also held a long discussion with them and I told them of the financial problems that are there and that we have to contend with. For now all we want to do is go out there and give it our best.
“I have been preaching nearly every day that preparations should be adequate. The preparations count most and if we prepare well, then we have chance of getting good results. We could have been beaten Malawi in previous matches but again we need to do better in our preparations so that we get results this time.
“At the present moment we have a tendency of grinding results, without even training. We are saying we are going out again to get a result without proper preparations and it’s bad for Zimbabwean football,” a confident Pasuwa told The Herald.
“[However], In football you normally play the way you would have prepared,” Pasuwa added.
He said since time was fast approaching, his emphasis was now on what they need to do to overcome the Flames.
The Warriors will bank their hopes on Belgium-based ‘Smiling Assasin’—Knowledge Musona. Their other key players include captain Willard Katsande, Khama Billiat, Kudakwashe Mahachi and Cuthbert Malajila.
The Flames are ranked 95th on Fifa Coca Cola World rankings, 24 places above the Warriors. The last time the two teams met was in March last year in a friendly match at Kamuzu Stadium and the Warriors triumphed 4-1.
However, the scales are tipped in Flames favour as they have been active compared to Zimbabwe who, apart from the Cosafa Cup in which they were booted out in the early stages, have been inactive. But to their credit, they have good individual players.