Coach Ernest Mtawali has been challenged to chalk back-to-back victories against Guinea in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers as his year-long contract renewal hinges on the Flames’ performance in the two crucial games.
FAM general secretary Suzgo Nyirenda said the Flames have no luxury of dropping points in the forthcoming qualifiers.
“The ball is in his court. We cannot afford to drop points in these two games. So, yes his future relies on these two games. He has six months remaining on his contract and definitely these games will determine his future with the Flames. If he wins, he is safe,” said Nyirenda.
He said they would provide full support to the coach so that he succeeds in his mission.
“The national team coach gave a report regarding the Flames performance for the past five months including his team rebuilding philosophy. He also gave some proposals for the Flames preparations for two back-to-back matches against Guinea in March.
“The meeting resolved that the local players—who are on off-season should start local camping early February 2016 for fitness purposes. The meeting also resolved that since there was no any other Fifa calendar date before the Guinea matches, FAM should secure a friendly match en route to Guinea which will enable the coach to have a full squad that will play in Conakry and in the return match at home.
“It was further proposed that the national team coach should travel to South Africa to assess some of the players who have not been part of the team for some time,” Nyirenda said.
The Flames, who are third in Group L with a point from two matches and are hoping to relaunch their Afcon campaign, will play away to Guinea in Conakry on March 23 and host the West Africans a week later at Kamuzu Stadium.
Swaziland is at the summit of the group with four points and Zimbabwe, with the same number of points, are on second position while Guinea anchor the table with a point.
Mtawali last Sunday presented to Football Association of Malawi (FAM) a report on the Flames’ performance for the past five months he has been in charge.
The national team coach was told that he also has to include South Africa-based professional players which he left out in the other assignments.
After he was appointed coach to replace Young Chimodzi in June 2015, Mtawali has concentrated on giving game time to up-and-coming players such as Stanley Sanudi, Chawanangwa Kaonga, Levison Maganizo, Dalitso Sailesi, Isaac Kaliyati, Yamikani Chester, Miracle Gabeya, Schumacher Kuwali and Brighton Munthali-all Under-20 graduates—dropping veterans captain Joseph Kamwendo, Atusaye Nyondo, Robin Ngalande, Esau Kanyenda and Harry Nyirenda.
But the coach has changed the approach and will now balance between professional players and local players.
“In the previous squad, I used 70:30 ratio. But this time my plan is to have a 60:40 ratio of professional players to local players,” Mtawali said.
“ That’s why I proposed that I should travel to South Africa and monitor the players.”
The coach, however, has stressed that selection of players would be on merit.
“Yes, we want to have the best team with all our players. But I will not pick players just because I want more professional in the squad. Players have to work to earn the position. It will be strictly on merit because at the end of the day what we want are results regardless of who plays,” said Mtawali.
But soccer analyst Charles Nyirenda was of the view that FAM should not expect results at a time when players’ performance at both local and international level is not up to scratch.
“FAM shouldn’t be desperate four results at a time when the quality of players we have are a combination of very inexperienced lads and experienced but ageing fellows whose best times are behind them now. After all, this Guinea team is very dangerous and not at our level judging by its composition of European-based stars.
“Don’t be deceived by the fluke away victory Swaziland posted against them in Morocco. Remember they recovered from that setback by holding Zimbabwe in Harare,” Nyirenda said.
The analyst urged FAM to evaluate Mtawali philosophy and the team’s rebuilding exercise.
“My take is that Mtawali must be judged by how the team is shaping up considering that several things happening now aren’t conducive to facilitating a successful outcome. Just imagine, local players are on recess; the foreign legion constitutes players who are often not featured; preparations are shabby because of resource constraints,” said the former FAM general secretary.
“It doesn’t require a genius to note that against such a backdrop, the odds have got to be stacked against the Flames in the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers. As such, let us rally around Mtawali and hope for the best instead of pointing a gun in his face and pressurising him to manufacture results.”
During Mtawali’s five months reign, Malawi has played eight games lost thrice, drew once and won four.
The Flames beat Uganda in the Independence Celebrations 1-0, drew 2-2 against Swaziland in Afcon qualifier.
Malawi lost 2-0 to Tanzania in World Cup preliminary round qualifier, but managed a 1-0 win in the second leg but that was not good enough of the team to qualify.
The Flames beat Djibouti and Sudan at Cecafa Cup and but lost to South Sudan and eventual champions Uganda. n