A tall order. While conceding that the gap with Morocco’s Atlas Lions in terms of class and stature is vast, Flames captain Limbikani ‘Pupa’ Mzava and coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG) say they are not in a cold sweat ahead of their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations’ qualification clash.
The two were reacting to the Atlas Lions’ performance at the 2018 World Cup where despite being knocked out in the group stages, they nearly caused an upset against one of the global showpiece’s favourites Spain.
The Flames, who jointly lead group B with Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, will face Morocco in September in their next 2019 Africa Cup Nations away in Rabat.
Speaking in an interview from his base in Durban, South Africa, Mzava said: “I watched all Morocco’s games. We need to be realistic in our expectations because Morocco have proven at the World Cup that they are miles ahead ndipo tiri ndi chi ntchito [we have a huge task]
“They have depth in class and experience and they are tactically sound, but while the odds are stacked against us, we will not travel to Rabat an already beaten team.
“In football it doesn’t follow that just because team A is a good side then they are guaranteed of success, it doesn’t work that way and we will fight for every inch of the way.”
However, the Flames on-field leader said they will need to prepare both physically and mentally and have self-belief.
He reiterated the need to include a few more experienced players in the squad.
“And I should not be misunderstood. I am not implying that the young players are bad, in fact we have a number of promisng young talent coming through who can rise to the occasion.
“But for a game of such magnitude, we will need experience which the Moroccans have in abundance because this is a different stage. And we will also need to give out something extra,” he said.
On his part, RVG said: “They [Morocco] have a strong squad with 90 to 95 percent of them playing in European top leagues. They also have technical and offensive qualities. They were able to push a world-class team like Spain in their own half and that speaks volumes about their qualities.
“So, yes, it will be a big challenge for our young team, but we have to believe that we can do it and we can draw lessons from them [Morocco] who nearly caused an upset against Spain when no-one gave them a chance.
“They [Morocco] deserve our respect, but we shouldn’t fear them, we need to be confident and have that mindset that it can be done,” said the Belgian mentor.
He said with no Fifa calendar date on the cards, the Flames might not play a friendly match ahead of the Morocco game.
Reacting to calls from Football Association of Malawi (FAM) technical subcommittee and Mzava’s calls for the need to include some experienced players, RVG said: “We will consider all players that are available for selection, but will also depend on their form and commitment.”
Seasoned coach Yasin ‘Titch’ Osman said the Flames will have to punch above their weight.
“The key aspect will be psychological and game plan. These are the key areas when you are playing strong opposition at its backyard. It is about understanding their strengths and weaknesses and coming up with an ideal game plan,” he said.
FAM technical subcommittee has since RVG to include all Malawi’s top players for the showdown.
The committee, headed by FAM vice-president James Mwenda, made the recommendation after its meeting held last Saturday, after noting that some foreign-based players have, in the recent past, been left out of the Belgian’s squad.
During the meeting RVG submitted a report on the team’s performance at the recent Cosafa Cup in South Africa where the Flames were once again knocked out in the group stages after a loss and two draws.
“It was a normal subcommittee meeting which we always have. There were reports from all national team activities such as the Under-20 and the Flames,” said Mwenda.
He said: “We have asked the coach to ensure that he includes all our top players in the squad considering that we will be meeting one of the best teams in Africa. We have seen how Morocco played at the World Cup. They are good in all departments.
“We saw how they only conceded in the dying minutes in their first game and even came back stronger in their game against Spain whom they managed to hold. We, therefore, cannot afford to play without out top players. We have asked the coach to cast the net wider.”
RVG has in the recent assignments dropped key players such as South Africa-based Gerald Phiri Jnr and Robert Ng’ambi who snubbed RVG’s earlier call up.
Malawi and Cameroon have three points each following their 1-0 wins over Comoros and Morocco respectively in the first round of the qualifiers in June last year.
Morocco’s key players include Khalid Boutaib and Youssef En-Nesyri who scored in the two-all draw against Spain at the global showpiece.