Flames coach Meck Mwase has admitted that continued lack of game time for his foreign-based troops in the count down to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals, is worrisome.
With the 33rd edition of the continental football showpiece set to roll kick-off next January in Cameroon, only striker Khuda Muyaba is enjoying game time at South African second-tier league side Polokwane FC.
In an interview on Thursday, Mwase said while the situation is a cause for concern, there is little he can do about it.
He said: “Most of the foreign-based players are not playing at their respective clubs and it is a cause for worry, especially with the Afcon finals drawing closer.
“But then these are our key players who are the backbone of the team and we cannot just exclude them and say we’ll find replacements.
“We just have to find a way of dealing with the situation.”
Mwase also defended his continued reliance on goalkeepers Ernest Kakhobwe and Brightone Munthali who also hardly feature at their clubs Nyasa Big Bullets and Silver Strikers, respectively.
“I don’t want to comment much on the two goalkeepers. It is a difficult one.
“What I can say though is that they too are key members of the squad and we have come a long way with them and we cannot just drop them and bring in others. As the saying goes, better the devil you know than the angel you don’t.”
While Muyaba is enjoying a rich vein of form at Polokwane where he is the AfricaGlad Championship leading scorer with seven goals, it has not been rosy for the others.
His teammate Mike Mkwate has been confined to the bench while defender Dennis Chembezi is nursing an injury.
Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango and captain Limbikani Mzava have literally been reduced to sideshows at DStv Premier League outfits Orlando Pirates and AmaZulu FC, respectively .
Mhango has not featured for the Buccaneers in the past 11 matches, having made his last appearance on August 24 against Marumo Gallants.
On the other hand, Mzava, the longest serving member of the Flames squad, has not featured in the last seven matches.
He last made a brief appearance for Usuthu against Baroka FC on September 25 as a second half substitute.
Others such as Charles Peter Banda, Richard Mbulu and Europe-based Charles Petro and Fransisco Madinga hardly make the starting line-up at their respective clubs though the solace is that they are often thrown in as substitutes.
Until his recent move to Sudanese giants Al Hilal, lanky midfielder Gerald Phiri Jnr had also been relegated to the bench at South African DStv Premiership outfit Baroka FC.
Mozambique-based midfielder John ‘CJ’ Banda has also been enjoying regular game time at Mocambola League side UD Songo.
However, Football Association of Malawi president Walter Nyamilandu said the players that are lacking match fitness will have a chance to recover during the training camp in Saudi Arabia through a series of international friendly matches.
He said: “We are putting in place a regime to condition the players physically by recruiting a qualified physical fitness trainer.
“Having discussed with the coach and the new TD [technical director], we are searching locally for a qualified physical fitness trainer to bridge this gap.
“We are also coming up with a special programme to resume camping early December so that we can give a chance to local players that are not active to regain fitness, including the ones that need quick recovery from injury.”
While acknowledging that lack of game time has the potential to affect the team’s performance, Mzava said the crucial aspect will be how the affected players react.
He said: “Lack of game time comes in because of several factors. It could be form, conduct or whether you fit in the coach’s plans.
“So, I think it is about remaining focussed and working hard during training. This is where mental strength comes in.”
Football analyst Charles Nyirenda said lack of game time has the potential to affect the team’s performance.
He said: Lack of game time leads to loss of confidence, hunger and motivation to perform to one’s level best and decline in reflex reaction to situations on the ground requiring alertness.
“With more game time, a player doesn’t develop cobwebs. Without game time, the appetite for playing soccer vanishes gradually due to mental stress and the feeling of hopelessness.”