That moment is here. The setting is Independence Stadium in Windhoek, Namibia as experienced Malawi launch the 2016 Cosafa Cup campaign this evening in a tricky Group B fixture against youthful Angola’s Palancas Negras.
Coach Ernest Mtawali is aware that this group opener against Angola, who return to the Cosafa Cup after missing the last edition, will not be an easy one.
With the soccer-mad fans back home having lost trust in the Mtawali regime, this match can potentially make-or-break Mtawali’s prospects of having his contract renewed at the end of the month.
But the coach is hoping to build on the team’s recent performance when they held hosts and defending champions Namibia in a friendly match on Wednesday.
“We learnt a lot from the Namibia match. One thing that I noted was that we defended well, and dominated possession. But we were not good upfront. Those are the things we worked on before the game against Angola,” said Mtawali.
The Flames are yet to score in two matches, a development that has been giving Mtawali headache.
“We have not scored a goal in two games. The last time we scored was when we played Guinea at Kamuzu Stadium. That is one of the things we have also worked on,” Mtawali said.
The Parancas Negras boast of the youngest squad at the tournament, having brought a Under-17 squad, including Alberto Miguel, Nelson da Luz, Daniel Janota, Atanasio Monteiro, Gaspar Fortunato, Zinadine Catraio, Franklin Dmulunda and 15-year-old goalkeeper Joao Eduardo.
The youngsters will be led by the Under-20 coach Sarry Matias, who said he has confidence in the lads he has brought, to pull a surprise.
The Angolans, who are three times Cosafa Cup champions, go into the match as favourites. But Malawi have an experienced squad. They have also already acclamatised to the weather here in Namibia unlike their opponents who arrived just hours before the match due to flight connection hitches.
The Flames coach will be relying on the experience of seasoned campaigners led by captain Chiukepo Msowoya, Charles Swini, Harry Nyirenda, Joseph Kamwendo and Peter Wadabwa all who launched their careers through the Cosafa Cup exposure.
Mtawali will try to counter Angola’s youthful squad that usually plays fast attacking football, by deploying Gerald Phiri, Rafiq Namwela, Gabadinho Mhango, Miracle Gabeya, Stanley Sanudi and Isaac Kaliyati who are equally capabale of matching the Palancans Negras.
Striker Msowoya said the game would be tricky, but the players were ready for the challenge.
“This is a very important match for us. The result from this match will have a huge bearing on our campaign,” said Msowoya .
A loss or draw will mean Malawi has to pray that the Angolans stumble in their other two games for the Flames to finish as group leaders and qualify for the quarter-final and meet South Africa.
Malawi’s second game is against lowl- ranked Mauritius on June 14 in another late kick-off at the same venue while Angola play Lesotho.
The Flames wrap up the group stage against the group’s second lowest-ranked team, Lesotho, on June 16 at Sam Nujoma Stadium while Angola face Mauritius.
Malawi beat Zambia 1-0 in last year’s Cosafa Cup Plate final after losing to Mozambique on penalties in the quarter-finals.
The Flames have reached the Cosafa Cup final twice—2002 and 2003—losing to South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Angola beat Malawi 3-2 in the 2013 Cosafa Cup Plate semi-final in