Some Flames key players have opened out on their frustration over lack of game time at their respective South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs.
Currently, out of nine key Flames players who play in the PSL, only midfielder Robert â€˜Baggioâ€™ Ngâ€™ambi is enjoying regular game time, raising concerns that the situation is likely to affect the Flames performance in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers.
Captain Peter â€˜Mjojoâ€™ Mponda, Tawonga Chimodzi (Santos), Moses Chavula (Amazulu), Atusaye Nyondo (SuperSport), Dave Banda and Harry Nyirenda (Black Leopards), Limbikani Mzava (Bloemfontein Celtic) and Chiukepo Msowoya (Platinum Stars) have either made sporadic appearances or have been completely sidelined due to various reasons.
Out of the nine, Nyondo and Nyirenda have been nursing injuries whereas Mzava was not registered for this season.
On the other hand, Santos coach Duncan Crowie claims Mponda is not yet ready to play following his career-threatening injury and needs to bounce back gradually.
Three other seasoned playersâ€”defender Elvis Kafoteka and strikers Esau Kanyenda and Russell Mwafulirwaâ€”are still hunting for clubs.
Mponda, Chavula and Chiukepo this week admitted that their on-and-off appearances are a cause for worry.
Said Mponda: “Obviously, the situation is a cause for concern because we are talking about the majority of key national team players not enjoying game time and we have crucial World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. It is frustrating.
“As for me, the coach insists I cannot feature in big games as a precautionary measure until I am ready, but I feel I am very much ready.”
However, Mponda dismissed suggestions that the Flames stars are failing to make the grade.
“There are several factors that coaches look at when featuring players and they include form, tactics and preferences. Personally, I believe, given a chance, players such as Chavula, Chiukepo and Mzava can still perform.”
On his part, Chavula feared that the situation could affect the confidence of some players.
“Lack of game time affects a playerâ€™s confidence because while the heart could be willing, the body is reluctant.
“So, yes, the situation is indeed a cause for worry ahead of the forthcoming international games, but it is not that we have slumped in form. It should also be taken into account that team fielding is at the discretion of the coach and in some cases, it is not always on merit,” he said.
But Chavula insisted that the Flames can still perform wonders in the forthcoming games if they assemble in good time.
Ngâ€™ambi said he has played regularly because of consistency in form. However, he was quick to throw his weight behind his peers.
“Most of the guys are doing quite well here although they are not playing regularly. I will give you an example of Chiukepo who is my teammate, he is in good shape and it is just a matter of time before he breaks into the starting line-up. The good thing is that most of them have remained focused,” said Ngâ€™ambi.
Coach Kinnah Phiri described the situation as worrisome.
“The solace though is that the key players have not been completely sidelined and if we can assemble in good time and play a friendly match, then they should catch up,” said Kinnah.
Former Flames captain John Maduka, who played in the South Africa top league for almost a decade, blamed lack of game time for the Flames stars partly due to lack of consistency.
“The top league here [in South Africa] has become so competitive and it is attracting foreign players not only from West Africa but overseas as well, so, players especially foreigners need to be at the top of their game all the time,” said Maduka.
Another former Flames star Ernest â€˜Wireâ€™ Mtawali said the Flames SA-based stars should not be counted out.
“They might not be playing as regularly as expected, but their experience and international exposure is still vital,” said Mtawali who was the first foreigner to be named South Africa footballer of the year in 1985.
In First Division, Jacob Ngwira has been sidelined due to injury, but Jimmy Zakazaka (African Warriors), Peter Wadabwa (Thanda Royal Zulu) and Sankhani Mkandawire are enjoying a rich vein of form.
Zakazaka is currently the third leading scorer with seven goals whereas Wadabwa has been named man-of-the-match in a couple of games.