Four Flames members, including three players, on Thursday failed to travel with the squad for an overseas camping in Saudi Arabia en route to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Cameroon after testing positive for Covid-19.
One more player and two other officials were also left behind in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia yesterday after being diagnosed with the virus to bring the number of those affected to seven.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) executive member Chimango Munthali, who is leader of delegation, confirmed the development, but could not give the names of the seven.
Nevertheless, Weekend Nation established that the players are Nyasa Big Bullets midfielder Chimwemwe Idana, who won the TNM Super League Player of the Season award in the just-ended 2020/21 TNM Super League, and defenders Gomezgani Chirwa and Sankhani Mkandawire. The official is yet to be identified.
Mighty Wanderers goalkeeper William Thole is the player who was left behind in Addis Ababa and has since been replaced by Silver Strikers goalkeeper Brightone Munthali, who left for Saudi Arabia yesterday.
Prior to the development on Thursday, Munthali and some other visibly-concerned FAM officials were seen running up and down and holding some serious conversations at the airport minutes before the Flames departure.
“Yes, some players will not travel with the team today. They have tested Covid-19 positive,” Munthali said.
When asked if this means the three players have now been left out of the 30-player provisional squad completely, he said: “They will join the squad later; probably after they test negative within the next seven days.”
This means the three players are bound to miss the better part of the 10-day overseas camping, which is probably the last player-assessment process before the technical panel names the squad for the Afcon finals.
During their sojourn in Saudi Arabia, the Flames are set to face Mali on December 30 and Comoros on January 4 in friendly matches.
They will also play against some Saudi Arabian clubs in test matches.
After the overseas camping, the national football team will proceed to Cameroon for the 33rd Afcon showpiece, where they will start their campaign with a fixture against Guinea’s Syli Nationale on January 10 at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam. The Flames will have their second Group B match against Zimbabwe’s Warriors on January 14 before concluding their group fixtures against Africa’s top-ranked side Senegal’s Teranga Lions on January 18.