The road to Ivory Coast 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals started on a positive note for Malawi on Sunday with a hard fought 2-1 victory over Ethiopia at Bingu National Stadium.
South Africa-based forward Frank Gabadinho Mhango’s two goals from the spot-kick in the first half were enough to hand the hosts an important three points as they seek back-to-back Afcon qualifications.
Despite some chaotic scenes preceding the fixture as police battled with fans outside the stadium after the perimeter fence was broken, the atmosphere was electric in the full capacity stadium.
President Lazarus Chakwera, clad in a red tracksuit accompanied by the First Lady, was part of the celebrations on a cold afternoon. Vice-President Saulos Chilima, Cabinet ministers, diplomats and corporate executives also watched the match.
Barely three minutes into the game, Mhango nearly gave the hosts the lead.
A minute later, Ethiopia responded with a long range effort from Dawa Huttessa which went wide.
However, Malawi took the lead in the 10th minute after Stein Davie was fouled in the box and the referee awarded a penalty.
Mhango scored from the spot, sending goalkeeper Fasil Gebrchael Weldegebriel the wrong way. The goal triggered a frenzy of celebrations inside the stadium as fans hugged and danced.
Despite dominating possession, the visitors’ defence of Mesudu Muhammad Musa, Mignot Debebe Dada and Yared Bayeh Belay was caught off guard when Malawi countered.
In the 33rd minute, a Flames counter-attack saw Bayeh Belay fouling Mhango in the box and South African referee Abongile Thom pointed to the spot for th second.
Mhango again rose to the occasion to make it 2-0 for the Flames.
After recess the visitors continued to dominate possession, but it was again the hosts who were more threatening offensively.
Davie had an opportunity to make it three for the hosts in the 54th minute after being fed a good ball by Mhango, but his weak shot from close range was tamed by the goalkeeper.
Ethiopia nearly pulled one back in the 59th minute.
Sensing danger, Flames coach Mario Marinica substituted Davie for Chiukepo Msowoya and Chimwemwe Idana for Francisco Madinga.
But the visitors continued pressuring the hosts and it paid off in the 65th minute as Malawi conceded a penalty.AbubekerNasiri Ahmed scored to make it 2-1 and sending the stadium in a death like silence.
The goal gave the vistors hope for an upset and they continued to bombard the hosts with attack after attack but the hosts held on.
In a post-match interview, Marinica described the game as tough.
“It was a very tough game. Ethiopia is a fantastic team. They play good football. They have skilful players, but we did manage to contain them and win, credit to the players. We did play much on the pitch but we managed to create chances and that is important,” he said.
Ethiopia coach Wubetu Abate said he felt his team deserved more from the game
“First congratulations to the Malawi team for winning. We had a good game overall. We conceded two consecutive penalties and the game was already out of our hand. In the second half we made arrangements to change the tempo. We got a goal but it was not enough. I think we deserved at least a draw,” he said.