Flames coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG) says he will not include unattached players in his squad for next week’s back-to-back 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers against Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions.
Forwards Atusaye Nyondo and Robin Ngalande are unattached following the expiry of their contracts last season with South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) sides Baroka FC and Bloemfontein Celtic, respectively.
Both were included in the initial squad for the Morocco game, but only Nyondo made the final squad, which drew criticism from some quarters who felt the coach should have included an active player. .
“Only those that have clubs will be considered,” he said.
RVG also said he is satisfied with the level of commitment and attitude shown by local based players during training.
“Response has been overwhelming and they are in high spirits,” he said.
RVG also said while the odds appear stacked against Malawi due to inactivity of most foreign-based players, it is not all doom and gloom as he is banking his hopes on strong patriotism of his charges and the home-ground advantage in the second-leg on October 16 at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre.
Malawi has 10 regular foreign-based players of which only three are active at their clubs in the South Africa and Mozambican leagues.
Those enjoying regular game time are South Africa-based defender Limbikani Mzava and Mozambique-based midfielders Frank Banda and John Banda.
Robert Ng’ambi is recuperating from an injury while Ngalande and Nyondo are still hunting for clubs. Gabadinho Mhango, Gerald Phiri Jnr and Charles Swini are no longer enjoying game-time in the foreign leagues whereas Richard Mbulu is on-and-off in Mozambique.
In contrast, the Indomitable Lions, who will host the Flames in the first-leg on October 12, have a 23-player squad that has 22 overseas professionals, 10 of which are regulars in national leagues that are among the top-five in the world; Barclays English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1.
Statistics also favour Cameroon, who won two of their five games against the Flames. Malawi won once and the other two games ended in draws.
The two sides last met during the Afcon qualifier in 1995 when the Indomitable Lions triumphed 3-1.
“Cameroon are a very strong side. They have players that feature in top leagues, a development that adds depth to their squad. However, we will make do with the players that are in our fold,” said RVG when asked how he rated Malawi’s chances against the African champions.
“During our recent Afcon qualifier against Morocco and a friendly against Kenya, we noted that some of our foreign-based players really struggled with form due to lack of game-time. But after those two games, we have a clear view of which professionals can withstand the pressure of playing two games within a week,” he said.
“I am confident that when our players show real patriotism for the country and play as a team, we have a big chance to make a small surprise in African football against the continental champions,” said the coach.
But for Malawi, these two fixtures are crucial as they are third in their four-team group with three points from two matches, the same as second-placed Morocco, who are better on goal difference. The Indomitable Lions lead the pack with four points while Comoros, who lost 0-1 to Malawi in the first game before drawing one-all against Cameroon, anchor the table with a single point.
Group winners will qualify for the 2019 Afcon finals. Runners up will also make it if they finish among the three best runners-up of all the groups.
Soccer analyst George Kaudza Masina said football being a practical game, the inactivity of Flames professionals at their respective foreign clubs is a set-back for the national team’s chances of plucking a win against a team of Cameroon’s calibre.
“As such, there is no justification to consider them for the Cameroon game. Let the technical panel make do with the local players, who are on top of their game at the moment,” he said.
“In the short term, the technical panel should consider veterans such as Esau Kanyenda, Fischer Kondowe and Joseph Kamwendo, who have proved they are still at their best in the domestic league as compared to even most of the players that are currently in camp. The Cameroon game is not there to try upcoming players but to win for qualification.” n