On their familiar Kamuzu Stadium hunting ground where the mighty and the invincible stutter and stumble uncharacteristically, the Flames hope to add the Super Eagles of Nigeria to the burgeoning casualty list today (Saturday).
â€˜Winlessâ€™ in four games in all competitions in 2012, the Flames hope to banish the demons of their suspect form in this game which is among 10 World Cup African qualifiers being played in the continent.
Only one team from each of the 10 groups will qualify for one but last elimination round for a place at the Brazil World Cup finals in 2014.
For Flames coach Kinnah Phiri, his bigger picture is on the ongoing 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
The mood in Flames camp is reflected in the ever-confident Kinnah whose game plan against the Super Eagles might as well read: “Score and please score Atusaye Nyondo and Chiukepo Msowoya.”
“We are playing well and we are creating enough chances, but what was lacking in the recent past games was that last killer touch; the final delivery. With Msowoya back, I have no doubt he is the missing link,” Kinnah insisted.
Msowoya returns to give coach Kinnah options, but how he uses the strikers available would matter. Obviously, more than anything else, Kinnah trusts Russell Mwafulirwaâ€™s experience. The other options are Jimmy Zakazaka and Robin Ngalande.
Records show the Platinum Stars forward Msowoya is more effective when introduced late to hassle tired defenders. Otherwise, Ngalande and Nyondo look on paper like a dream strike force. But then Kinnah, whose side is ranked 107 against 60 for Nigeria, has his own way of doing things.
Flames, who drew 0-0 in Kenya last Saturday, seek to displace at the top on three points of Group F the Nigerians who started their show last Sunday with a 1-0 beating of bottom-placed Namibia.
“I hear talk in Nigeria is that they are coming here for a winâ€¦well, let them come and see what we have in store for them. We will surprise them. If they struggled at home against Namibia, then surely the last thing they should think about is beating Malawi,” Kinnah warned during the week.
Tough talk indeed. And it is difficult to dismiss Kinnah as Egyptâ€™s year-long unbeaten record was buried at the giant arena and Cote dâ€™Ivoire, with Didier Drogba, barely escaped from the jaws of defeat. Also Togo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea were also among the high-profile victims. The Flames have at home, in four years, lost once (1-0) to Burkina Faso.
A win might not necessarily guarantee the Flames a surprise maiden World Cup final appearance, but it could go a long way to lift the spirits ahead of next weekâ€™s Nations Cup qualifier against Chad.
It is true that since their 2010 Africa Cup of Nations appearance in Angola and the last gasp failure in the subsequent campaign, the Flames have been plagued by injuries and drastic dip in form of key players. Flames have grown stout defensively, but serious problems persist upfront.
For the Super Eagles, new coach Stephen Keshi is rebuilding a strong side around home-based players, having sidelined stars such as Mikel Obi, Yakubu Aiygbeni and Peter Odemwinge.
In their last 2003 visit of Blantyre, Nigeria won 1-0 through John Utakaâ€™s strike. With Utaka, Keshi has resorted to forming three-pronged attack alongside Victor Moses and Ikechukwu Uche who scored against Namibia.
The powerful Utaka, Moses and especially Uche, who is so clinical in front of goal, need special attention. Experienced Vincent Enyeama will guard the Super Eaglesâ€™ â€˜polesâ€™. This should be a game of energy and all-out effort.
“We will ensure another victory in Malawi. We will resume training on Tuesday and will take the matches one at a time,” the Montpellier striker Utaka told www.MTNFootball.com
â€”Malawi has in six meetings lost five and drawn once.
â€”As coach, Kinnah has never faced Super Eagles.
â€”Mwafulirwa is sole survivor of the 2003 squad that lost 1-0 to Nigeria.
â€”Utaka and Enyeama are Nigeriaâ€™s survivors of the 2003 squad.
â€”When they last met in 2003, Nigeria were ranked 3rd in Africa while Flames were 21st; now Nigeria are 11th whereas Flames are 27th.