The Flames have said they are not in Swaziland to be part of the famous cultural dance Umhlanga as the kingdom domain celebrates 47 years of independence, but on a serious mission to revive their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) campaign.
Malawi take to Somhlolo Stadium pitch in Lobamba this afternoon to face Swaziland’s Sihlangu Simnikati with their backs to the wall, having lost their opening Group L qualifier 1-2 to Zimbabwe’s Warriors.
But battle-hardened midfielder Robert Ng’ambi and stand-in captain Limbikani Mzava have undertaken solemnly to play out of their skins and get a result that will breathe a new lease of life into their campaign.
“This is a must-win game. Its importance cannot be over-emphasised. A win is not an option, but a must; otherwise, it could spell disaster for us,” said Ng’ambi, currently the longest serving member in the squad which includes five rookies.
However, the South Africa-based midfielder is aware that it will not be a stroll in the park for the Flames as the hosts are inspired, having won their opening qualifier against Guinea’s Sylli Nationale 2-1 away.
Guinea are seasoned campaigners who finished fourth at the 2015 edition of the continental showpiece in Gabon. They will also be buoyed by home-ground advantage.
“They are no longer minnows, they have made strides over the years and we’ll have to exercise a lot of caution. But we are ready for them,” said the Platinum Stars midfielder, Ng’ambi about Malawi’s game against Swaziland.
He was also quoted by one of Swazi’s dailies—The Observer—as saying: “We are going for a kill, following our loss in the first match. We just cannot afford another loss in these qualifiers.”
On his part, the ever-upbeat Mzava said: “The morale in the camp is high and all the guys are raring to go. We are geared up for the match. Our aim is to revive our campaign following the loss to Zimbabwe.”
The match will also provide a first test for coach Ernest Mtawali and his assistant Nsanzurwimo Ramadhan.
Mtawali sounded ice-cool yesterday as he answered questions from Nation on Sunday, saying: “We are ready. The guys are ready, too. We have one more session today to get the feel of the match venue, but they are looking good.
“I can see the hunger in their eyes. I can see it in their body language that they want the game badly. It’s not going to be easy, but we are set for this showdown.”
Ahead of the interviews for the Flames job, Mtawali promised to take the Flames to 2017 Afcon finals and this afternoon’s outcome could give a hint as to whether he is the chosen one.
He said the plan today will be to get an early goal so as to unsettle the hosts.
“We’ll have to start at full throttle and never allow them to play their pass-and-move game,” he said.
While keeping a tight lid on formation and game-plan, indications are that Mtawali and Ramadhan might opt for a 4-5-1 formation, with Richard Chipuwa guarding the posts, Mzava, John Lanjesi, Yamikani Fodya and Stanley Sanudi forming the rearguard.
Ng’ambi, the artist of deception, will play an attacking midfield role with Chimango Kayira providing the shield at the heart of the pitch while Gerald Phiri Jnr will keep the engines running. Micium Mhone and John Banda are tipped to orchestrate play up and down the flanks.
Upfront, Mtawali is expected to feature either Robin Ngalande or Chiukepo Msowoya.
On the other hand, Swaziland coach Harries Bulunga was yesterday quoted by the media as saying his charges are equally ready for the match.
“We are ready for any challenge lying ahead of us tomorrow and we will put up a good fight to ensure we win this clash,” he was quoted as saying.
It was a tone-down compared to his tough talk earlier in the week, when he declared that they were ready for the match and he was sure they will win.
“We are not intimidated by their South African-based players. It will be 11 against 11 in the field of play and we will match them pound for pound in all the departments,” Bulunga said.
His key man is captain Tony Tsabedze who scored both goals against Guinea. Swaziland also have a safe pair of hands in goalkeeper Mphikeleli Dlamini while Mxolisi Lukhele and Njabulo Ndlovu operate from the middle of the pack.
The Flames are ranked 96th on Coca Cola/Fifa World Rankings, 39 places above Sihlangu (135). The two teams have met 17 times in which the Flames won 10, drew five and lost three.
The last time the two teams met was on May 29 2011 in an international friendly match which ended in a one-all draw.s
But the last time they faced each other in a competitive match was in May 2007 in a Cosafa Cup match, which Swaziland won 1-0.