Flames, on third attempt, failed to progress to the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup semi-finals after poor creativity in midfield, a subdued striking force and porous defending saw them go down 2-0 to Uganda’s Cranes yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Malawi gave the nation hope of success after beating Sudan and Djibouti to reach the last eight. But yesterday, when it mattered most, they choked and it ended up being the same old tale of being so near yet so far.
In an interview monitored on SuperSport television channel, coach Ernest Mtawali’s face was seemingly lined up with grief and regret as his voice trailed off. It was understandable, maybe, as this man tasked to build the national team had just witnessed all the fruits of his struggles levelled to its foundations.
Mtawali attributed the loss to the early goals in both halves: “It was a difficult situation especially considering that we let in the goals so early. Uganda deserved the win and all the best to them.”
Ugandan coach Mulitin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic praised his players for executing the plan they had laid: “We planned not to settle for a 1-0 victory because that was going to be dangerous. This is why we continued to attack and earn another goal.”
Uganda will meet Ethiopia who booted out Tanzania in post-match penalties. The two teams were tied one-all in regulation time.
Mtawali must surely have been regretting his decision to play a second string side against South Sudan on Friday from which Malawi lost 2-0, resultantly squandering a chance to finish top and pick an easy quarter-final opponent.
Flames started with the line-up that won the two opening matches, but this squad, like that which started against South Sudan, committed the same mistake; it conceded too early. A cross from the left landed on Uganda’s talismanic striker Farouk Miya who headed the Cranes in front just under six minutes after kick off.
What made the goal really odd was that neither Gabeya nor Lanjesi challenged the Ugandan captain and again Nthala must have done better to tame what looked like a harmless header.
In search of an instant equaliser, Flames launched a wave of attacks but the Ugandans stood firm.
Later it could have been worse for Flames after losing possession in midfield but Miya, with all the time in the world, failed to beat advancing Nthala in a one-on-one situation.
Three minutes after half time recess, the Uganda Cranes extended their lead after Miya, who was named man-of-the-match, exposed Fodya and set up Caeser Okhuti who beat Nthala at the near post.
After that goal, the coach withdrew striker Schumacher Kuwali for Nelson Kangunje while Gerald Phiri Jnr paved the way for Isaac Kaliati.
Despite the changes, Flames’ goal attempt in the second half only came after 20 minutes when Chiukepo shot from the edge of the box but Uganda goal-minder Ismael Watenga was handy to tame it.
Malawi’s chances of reversing the score-line diminished as the match wore on. The midfield, on several occasions, lost possession so easily and it was not creative enough to initiate meaningful scoring chances. n