The Flames are confident of an excellent start to their Council for Southern African Football Association (Cosafa) Cup campaign when they take on Tanzania’s Taifa Stars this afternoon at Moruleng Stadium in South Africa.
A win this afternoon will mean the Flames have a spring in their step ahead of their second Group A encounter against Mauritius on Tuesday and against Angola on Thursday.
Although the Flames, with a Fifa ranking of 117, are 22 steps better than Taifa Stars, they are statistically inferior head-to-head in their last five games, having lost twice, won once and drawn twice in all competitions.
Nevertheless, despite having the headache of moulding his team around locally based players after South African and Mozambican clubs withdrew their Malawian players from the squad, the Flames coach Ronny Van Geneugden (RVG) believes his charges are capable of overcoming last year’s nightmare of failing to cross the group-stage line.
“After all the preparations we had ahead of this competition, I have all the confidence that we will have a good start this Sunday and we are capable of winning the tournament.
“The players have what it takes to win this cup and, I tell you, they will surprise people. Much as we would have loved to have the foreign-based players in the squad, we have to make do with what we have,” he said.
RVG will be the second expatriate coach of Belgian nationality to be in charge of the national soccer team at Cosafa after Tom Saintfiet, who failed to even qualify for the plate semi-final following a 2-3 loss to Angola.
His deputy Gerald Phiri Snr said yesterday that they have no complaints going into their first assignment in the Cosafa contest this afternoon.
Phiri said: “Preparations are going on well and we are doing the final touches. The coach [RVG] has shown us clips of some Tanzania games. We have our game plan and our mission is to go through the group stages. I ask people back home to keep us in prayers and I believe we will not dissapoint this time around.”
At this Cosafa contest, the Flames will be without South Africa-based key players Limbikani Mzava, Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango, Gerald Phiri Jnr and Robert Ng’ambi alongside the Mozambique-based trio of John Banda, Frank Banda and Charles Swini.
In their place, RVG has drafted Dennis Chembezi Boyd, Ian Chinyama, Lucky Malata, Simeon Singa, Chisomo Mpachika and Peter Cholopi. The 20-player squad also has goalkeepers Brighton Munthali and Ernest Kankhobwe and other players Stanley Sanudi, Jabulani Linje, Francis Mlimbika, John Lanjesi, Chikoti Chirwa, Levison Maganizo, Dalitso Sailesi, Micium Mhone, Yamikani Chester, Khuda Muyaba, Innocent Bokosi and Binwel Katinji.
In spite of that, guest participants Tanzania will go to the tournament full house after the arrival of the Qatar-based striker Elias Maguli, who together with Sweden-based Thomas Ulimwengu, are the only professional players in the squad picked by coach Salum Mayanga.
“All players are in the residential camp and all are in good shape,” Taifa Stars team manager Danny Msangi, whose side would like to use Cosafa as preparations for their Championship for African Nations (Chan) qualifier against Rwanda’s Amavubi next month, was quoted by Tanzania Daily News.
Flames are in group ‘A’ with Tanzania, Angola and Mauritius while group B has Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Seychelles and Mozambique. Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Swaziland will join the tournament at quarter final stage, thanks to their better Fifa World rankings.
Meanwhile, Multichoice Malawi has disclosed that all the Cosafa Cup matches will be beamed live on SuperSport 4 and 9 from today to next Thursday.
“Once again we are bringing the Cosafa Castle Cup direct to the homes of soccer mad Malawians who will follow every game live from South Africa in the comfort of their homes,” said Multichoice marketing manager Chimwemwe Nyirenda.