Flames coach Ernest Mtawali has said he has no regrets dropping some senior national team players from the squad which faced Swaziland in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Mtawali was responding to a question on whether the absence of some experienced players might have contributed to the situation.
“I think it will be unfair to suggest that we lacked experience in depth.
“There might have been one or two [rookie players] who struggled because they were playing on such a big stage for the first time, but I do not think it could have been any better with senior players,” said Mtawali from Johannesburg yesterday.
He also said there were a number of factors that were looked into in coming up with the decision to opt for up-and-coming players at the expense of experience.
“Maybe I need to clarify that the door has not been closed for those that were dropped. If some of them start enjoying game time and are performing, they will be considered.”
Mtawali added that the two goals which Swaziland scored were “Christmas gifts which could have been avoided if the goalkeeper and the defence were firm.”
He, however refused to blame any individual player, saying: “Mistakes were made, but I am not going to blame any individual player although it was clear that defence was our weakest link. We will work on the shortfalls that were noted.”
He also said it was evident that some players lacked match fitness due to insufficient game time.
Former Flames defenders Charles Manda and Meke Mwase—who are coaching top league sides in Swaziland—said the Flames could have avoided the two goals had the goalkeeper [Richard Chipuwa] been alert.
Said Manda: “The two crosses which led to the goals could have been easily dealt with by the goalkeeper had he been steady enough. There was also an element of communication breakdown with his defence. If the coaches can work on that then the future looks bright.
“That said, I think the coach should be commended for drafting in some up-and-coming players, they showed a lot of promise and need to be encouraged.”
On his part, Mwase said: “Those crosses should have been easily cut by the goalkeeper if he was well-positioned, but he appeared indecisive. Otherwise, save for the two goals, the team showed great promise.”
Despite dropping five points in two games, Mtawali remains optimistic that he will live up his Afcon qualification dream, saying: “There are still 12 points to play for and anything can happen. The solace was that the other match [between Zimbabwe and Guinea] also ended in a [1-1] draw.
“But it won’t be easy as the four remaining matches include trips to Zimbabwe and Guinea.”
The Flames are third in Group L with a point from two games. Zimbabwe top the group with four points just like second-placed Swaziland, but they are separated by goals scored.
Guinea anchor the table with four points just like the Flames, but are also separated by goals scored.
Gerald Phiri Jnr scored the first goal for the Flames, but the hosts equalised a few minutes later.
Chiukepo Msowoya reclaimed the lead for Malawi but Sihlangu levelled the scores again in the second half.