On a bright afternoon of January 11 2010, the Flames defied their rank–outsider status to beat odds-on favourites Algeria 3-0 at the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola as their romantic flirtation with the continental showpiece reached new dizzy heights.
And this afternoon, the Flames will be out to rekindle those fond memories when they host the Fennec Foxes in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations Group B qualifier at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre.
Algeria are not just an ordinary team, they are currently ranked the best team on the continent by Fifa and they were arguably the outstanding African team at the 2014 World Cup where they even gave eventual world champions, Germany, a scare in a thrilling quarter-final match which they lost in extra time. They gave Germany a genuine run for their money and pushed them to their limits, playing like heroes to the very last second.
The Fennec Foxes are ranked 20th in the world, 78 places above the Flames. But despite the gulf in class and stature, the Flames believe they can cause a major upset this afternoon and keep their Morocco qualification hopes nicely on the boil.
The world of sport, by its nature, has always been fascinated by such feel-good stories of an underdog—which finds itself facing the might of the heavyweight—causing a shock victory that cheers the spirits of the globe.
In the recent past, never has the commercial city been gripped by such a wave of football fever and even the natural elements appear to acknowledge the importance of this encounter and the brutal cold conditions which had turned Blantyre into a mini-version of London last weekend has given way to sunshine.
But ever upbeat Flames captain Joseph Kamwendo said: “It is a match that is weighed heavily in favour of Algeria, but we are determined to cause an upset. We respect them, but we do not fear them.
“That we were able to beat Algeria convincingly four years ago at such a grand tournament gives us a lot of confidence going into Saturday’s battle that we can do it again. The other advantage is of course, that we’ll be playing at home.
“We are aware though that it will be a different game altogether and it will be a tall order. We cannot ignore the fact that we are going into a fight with a better opponent, but we are very determined and ready to sweat blood,” said Kamwendo.
He also said the importance of the match cannot be overemphasised as it has the potential to determine their fate in the future.
“We have set a target to win all games and the Algeria game is no exception, we are driven by self-belief,” said Kamwendo.
Coach Young Chimodzi said hosting the Algerians before travelling to Algiers for the reverse fixture four days later, gives the Flames an edge.
“We have to win at home and then switch focus to the return leg. It’s an advantage that we are playing the first fixture at home because we have done well in recent games.
“The match also provides up-and-coming players a platform to make names for themselves because it is in such big games that you stand up to be counted,” said Chimodzi.
However, the Flames mentor refused to be drawn to comment on tactical and technical issues.
“I am not comfortable to discuss tactical issues in the media at this point, we would rather keep it under wraps, suffice to say we had some weaknesses in the recent games which have since been rectified and we are ready,” said Chimodzi.
Nevertheless, the Flames are most likely to play an attacking formation with Atusaye Nyondo and Robin Ngalande tipped to start upfront while inspirational Robert Ng’ambi keep the supply lines open at the heart of the pitch with Chimango Kaira providing the shield between the defence and the attack.
Kamwendo and Ngalande will integrate play from the flanks while Nyondo and either Chiukepo Msowoya or Frank Banda will lead the attack.
The Flames have played Algeria six times, they have won twice, lost thrice and drawn once.
Algeria’s key players include Yacine Brahime, a slippery forward who claimed a hat-trick recently for his club FC Porto in a Eufa Champions League 6-0 demolition of Bate Borisov. Their other key players are Portugal-based Islam Sliman and El Arbi Soudani who turns out for Croatian club Dinamo Zagrab. Others are captain Majhid Bhougerra, Carl Medjani and Faouz Ghoulam.
Algeria has been to the World Cup four times in 1982, 1986, 2010 and 2014. They have also won the African Cup of Nations once in 1990, when they hosted the tournament.
At the 2014 World Cup, Algeria became the first African team to score four goals in a match at the 2014 World Cup against South Korea. They were the last of the African teams to bow out of the tournament with their heads held high. It was the first time that Algeria have progressed past the group stage in the four times that they have participated in the World Cup finals.
They currently top Group B of the qualifiers with six points having won both their games so far against Mali and Ethiopia. The Flames are third on three points. They lost their first game 2-0 to Mali before beating Ethiopia 3-2. They are tied on points with Mali, but the West Africans have a better goal difference. Ethiopia anchor the group with no point.
Only the two top teams from each group plus the overall best number three team will qualify for the finals to be staged in Morocco next year.