The Flames still anchor Group B of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations’ (Afcon) qualifiers despite earning a point against group leaders Morocco’s Atlas Lions yesterday.
Malawi and Morocco played out a goalless draw in their last qualifier at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe in a contest that failed to stir the passions.
The Flames are now tied on five points with Comoros, but the islanders have a better goal difference of minus one against Flames’ minus four.
And unless Comoros lose to reigning African champions Cameroon by a four-goal margin in the last group match today, the Flames will still finish at the bottom of the four-team group.
On the other hand, Morocco stand proudly at the summit of the group with 11 points—three points above Cameroon—who need a six-goal margin win to dislodge the North Africans from the pinnacle of the group.
Such was Morocco’s luxury that they had already qualified for the Afcon finals regardless of yesterday’s result.
On the other hand, Comoros could still qualify if they beat Cameroon.
Flames coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG) said he was pleased with the result though he felt Malawi could have won the match.
“In the first half we played a very strong game, very mature and very disciplined. I must give compliment to the team because almost 85 percent of the players are in off-season but they played well against a team I regard as a top side,” he said.
The coach thinly criticised the Angolan referee Helder Carvalho for being unfair with some decisions against Malawi.
The fans during the closing stages of the match pelted bottles onto the pitch in protest against officiation.
Morocco coach Herve Renard said playing against Malawi at home is a tough task therefore a draw was a fair result.
“This is the first time I have played against Malawi and it is always tough when they are playing at home. The reason is they play direct football and it’s difficult,” he said.
In the opening exchanges, Malawi were pinned in their own half with the Moroccans launching a wave of attacks but the defence was resilient enough to break any threats.
As time ticked by the Flames slowly imposed themselves on the match and invented their first opportunity when Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango was let loose on the left. He chipped the ball over his opponent before unleashing a shot which narrowly missed the goal.
The game was later a balanced side with both sides threatening but the Lions of Atlas were more creative going forward.
Their Dutch side AZ Alkmaar winger Oussama Idrissi, who had just been cleared by FIFA to switch allegiance to Morocco was a thorn in the Flames flesh. His deft footwork and pace kept right back Stanley Sanudi on red alert and limited the defender’s overlapping business.
Overall the defence led by John Lanjesi and Gomezgani Chirwa was, in the opening half, the most outstanding department and goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe also did tremendously well with two brilliant saves.
In the second half, Malawi were blunt upfront and the rain did not help matters. Yamikani Chester failed to dictate the rhythm of the offences, Mhango looked jaded and appeared fatigued, Gerald Phiri Jnr did not have the creativity while striker Khuda Muyaba lacked service.
Mhango, who struggled throughout the match was substituted for e-Swathini (formerly Swaziland)-based forward Binwell Katinji.
While the Morrocans forced some good saves from Kakhobwe, the Flames striking force continued to stutter with no clear cut chances.
It was no surprise that coach Ronny van Gueneugden was forced to withdraw Muyaba for forgotten man Mecium Mhone.
But it was the visitors who came close to going in front when in the 75th minute substitute Rachid Alioui beat Kakhobwe from a 20 metre free-kick only to be saved by the upright.
In injury time Alioui, who plays for French side Nîmes Olympique, also smashed the post from another free-kick and Malawi survived.