Malawi’s Flames will start the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final tournament campaign against Guinea’s Syli Nationale on January 10 at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam, Cameroon.
Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) released the fixtures yesterday following the draw which pitted Malawi against last edition’s runners-up Senegal, Guinea and Zimbabwe in Group B.
The Flames second fixture is against fellow Cosafa bloc side Zimbabwe’s Warriors on January 14.
Malawi national football team coach Meck Mwase’s charges will then take on Africa’s top-ranked team Senegal aka Lions of Teranga on January 18 in the last Group B match.
In an interview yesterday, football analyst David Kanyenda said the Flames should count themselves lucky that they will face Senegal in the last fixture.
He was confident that Malawi can exploit the fixture to finish as runners-up or at worst, as third-best to make it to the knockout stage.
However, Kanyenda said for this to happen, Malawi needs to start planning for the rescheduled continental showpiece to be held from January 9 to 21 as the Flames return to the tournament for their third appearance.
“Now that we know the identity of our opponents, the order of fixtures and our location, we need to thoroughly prepare in all aspects, including but not limited to technical and logistical.”
On his part, Flames captain Limbikani Mzava yesterday described the group as fair.
He said: “Of course, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that Senegal are in a class of their own, but this is a group in which we can explore our fantasies if we plan well and fight hard.
“Zimbabwe and Guinea are also strong, but this is a group in which we can sail through. We just need to have self belief and the fighting spirit. Above all, how we prepare will be crucial.
“In my opinion, I believe we have a chance of sailing through.”
Zimbabwe coach Zdravko Logarusic was quoted by The Herald newspaper yesterday as having said that he was not intimidated with the threat posed by group favourites Senegal and Guinea.
“I don’t care who we are facing in this group. We respect each and every team in this group, but we do not fear anyone. Malawi qualified because they are good and we ought to prepare well for each team,” he said.
On the other hand, former Leeds United and South Africa legend Lucas Radebe backed the Warriors to go all the way and win the tournament.
He was one of the guests at the draw and when he was asked to name the team that he thought would lift the trophy, he mentioned Zimbabwe.
Radebe backed his assertion by pointing out how the Warriors have progressed over the years.
When it was suggested to him that Nigeria could be the favourites, he declined to put the Super Eagles on top of his list to settle for Zimbabwe.
“Nigeria, maybe, but I would go for Zimbabwe. They have qualified and it is not by fluke. Zimbabwe is one of the most promising teams that we have seen,” Radebe said, triggering an applause.
Before him, Senegalese legend El Hadji Diouf had opined that Senegal would win the cup after losing in the final in Egypt in 2019.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president Walter Nyamilandu said the association’s technical subcommittee and Mwase will now draw a plan for the Afcon campaign.
“We were waiting for the draw to inform our plans,” he said.
Mwase, who attended the draw in Yaounde alongside Nyamilandu, welcomed the draw and called for swift preparations.
He said: “I believe all teams have got a chance to progress. It only depends on how we prepare—mentally and physically.”