Malawi’s Flames this afternoon take on hosts Botswana’s Zebras at Francistown Sports Complex looking to secure a passage to the 2022 Qatar World Cup group stages.
The last time the Flames made it this far was in 2007 when they finished third in Group C in joint 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers to make it to the continental tournament in Angola.
After a disappointing campaign in 2014 World Cup qualifiers in which Malawi was knocked out by Tanzania’s Taifa Stars,
the Flames get their campaign up and running with Mwase banking his hopes on a predominantly youthful squad that fears no territory.
The Flames mentor has opted to continue with the group of players that reached the 2019 Cosafa Cup quarter-finals.
Overseas-based right winger Yamikani Chester and Robin Ngalande are the only additions to the squad.
But Mwase is expected to stick to Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango and Richard Mbulu upfront with John ‘CJ’ Banda playing just behind them.
CJ’s role will, as usual, be to make driving runs at the centre-backs to free up space and create chances for Gabadinho and Mbulu.
Chester’s return means Mwase has to rest Micium Mhone while Gerald Phiri Jnr will still operate from the left wing. Then either Chimwemwe Idana or Chimango Kayira will play the holding midfielder role.
At the back, the defensive unit of right back Stanley Sanudi, centrebacks Charles Petro and Peter Cholopi and left back Precious Sambani remains unchanged.
Mwase also has several options on the bench. He can introduce Chikoti Chirwa, Peter Banda, Hassan Kajoke, Mhone, Mike Mkwate and Gomezgani Chirwa as substitutes.
Three players in the current squad—Phiri Jnr, Kayira and stand in captain CJ Banda were part of the squad that lost to Tanzania in 2015 in the
2018 World Cup qualification.
The trio perhaps knows better the shame and pain of being knocked out of the competition at this stage.
CJ recalls how Malawi were eliminated at home, Kamuzu Stadium.
He said: “The feeling was bad. It’s the same with this year because that time we also started away to Tanzania and lost 2-0. Though we won 1-0 at home, we were eliminated by one goal margin. We learnt a lot.
“Although some of the players we had that time are not around—I think there are three of us remaining—we have told the up-and-coming players that we need to win and qualify for the group stages. Playing in the World Cup is a great feeling. It’s the highest level in football. We need to win here and finish them at home.”
Mwase said he was impressed with the players’ hard working spirit ahead of the match.
“We are ready. They are all working hard to ensure that we get the desired result,” he said.
But the Botswana newly-appointed coach Algerian Adel Amrouche is also hoping to resurrect the Zebras.
“This is a challenge,” he told BBC. “I assure you, I will do the best I can to take the team higher.”
The coach has called foreign-based players Mpho Kgaswane (Zira FK, Azerbaijani), Mogakolodi Ngele (SuperSport, South Africa) , Mosha Gaolaolwe and goalkeeper Ezekiel Morake (TS Galaxy, South Africa). Thatayaone Ditlhokwe who was on trials in Poland is also back for the game.
But the Zebras will be without Kabelo Seakanyeng (Lija Athletic, Malta). Highlands Park defender Lesenya Ramoraa and Gaborone United attacking midfielder Thatayaone Kgamanyame have also been ruled out due to injuries.
The two teams have met 22 times and the Flames have won 13, lost four and drawn five. The Flames are 126th on Fifa/Coca-Cola World Rankings while Botswana are 21 places below