Flames coach Meke Mwase has named his final 20-man squad for the 2019 Cosafa Cup which has largely former coach Ronny Van Geneugden’s favourites, thereby maintaining the Belgian’s philosophy of promoting up and coming players.
While most of the contestants have opted for senior players, Mwase has included just five foreign-based players who have been seasonal campaigners at the regional competition.
The five are Mozambique trio of strikers Richard Mbulu and Chawanangwa Kawonga and midfielder John Banda complete with South Africa-based duo of Gabadinho Mhango and Gerald Phiri.
Other local players that have been regular faces at Cosafa Cup include goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe, Micium Mhone, Stanley Sanudi and Chikoti Chirwa and have been on and off in the senior squad for over six years.
But the coach has kept faith in Under-23 players such as goalkeeper Brighton Munthali, Dennis Chembezi, Peter Cholopi, Prescious Sambani, Peter Banda, Mike Mkwate, Chimwemwe Idana and Hassan Kajoke.
Meanwhile, Mwase has defended his selection, saying it is a blend of up-and-coming players mostly from Under-23 and some senior players.
“What we want is to win and progress to knockout stages and possibly reach semi-finals or finals,” he said.
Captain John Lanjesi is out after suffering a hamstring injury on Wednesday and Mwase said that it would affect his plans.
“Yes, he has been the captain for a long time. It will affect us, but we have replacements. It is upon these replacements to prove that they are capable of delivering,” he said.
Asked if the squad he has picked shows he is under pressure to deliver to avoid being fired, Mwase said: “As coaches we know we can either be hired or fired. But what is important is for the team to do well,” he said.
Commenting on Mwase’s squad, sports analyst and commentator Patrick Simango bemoaned the Flames’ lack of a clear purpose for the regional competition.
“The coming in and going out of players in the Flames has been a recipe for underperformance. This team has no consistency, a laboratory for pure beaker experiment,” he said.
But soccer analyst Charles Nyirenda said Mwase has largely maintained the players that went to Cosafa Cup last year for a purpose.
“Look, you cannot just change players anyhow. You need to maintain the backbone of the team which is what he has done. He has also included some Under-23 players such as Peter Banda, who will be playing at his maiden senior Cosafa Cup. That’s commendable,” he said.
The Flames left Blantyre for Lilongwe yesterday and will fly to South Africa this morning.
Placed in Group B, Malawi start the tournament with a fixture against Seychelles on Sunday at King Zwelithini Stadium.
Their second fixture is against Namibia two days later at the same venue before wrapping up the group stage against Mozambique also at the same venue.
Meanwhile, Group A now has three teams—e-Swatini, Mauritius and Comoros Islands after Angola last week announced they were pulling out to concentrate on Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament preparations.
The change has also forced a revision of the fixture list, with the tournament now to kick-off with a clash between e-Swatini and Mauritius at the King Zwelithini Stadium on Saturday.
The following is the full squad: Goalkeepers: Brighton Munthali, Ernest Kakhobwe, Defenders: Stanley Sanudi, Charles Petro, Peter Cholopi, Dennis Chembezi Precious Sambani, Gomezgani Chirwa, Midfielders: Chikoti Chirwa, Micium Mhone, Gerald Phiri Junior, Peter Banda, John Banda, Duncan Nyoni, Mike Mkwate, Chimwemwe Idana, Strikers: Richard Mbulu, Gabadinho Mhango, Hassan Kajoke, Chawanangwa Kawonga.