It’s make or break, a date with destiny for the Flames this afternoon when they engage the Barea of Madagascar at Bingu National Stadium in a 2018 Championship of African Nations (Chan) preliminary round return leg.
The Flames have their backs to the wall going into the second leg having lost the first leg 1-0 in Antananarivo last Saturday and need to turn it around with a two-goal margin win to sail through to the next round.
Such is the uphill task for the Flames that even a 1-0 win will not be enough to take them into the comfort zone as it will have to be decided through the dreaded penalty-shoot-out while a 2-1 victory will see the island nation progressing on away goal rule.
But while acknowledging that it will be a tall order, the Flames have said the task is not beyond the realms of possibility and they will go for the Barea’s throats from the word go in their quest to win their first official match at the state-of-the-art arena.
Flames captain Dave Banda declared that they will upset the tables.
“This battle is far from being over. We are down but not out and I am confident that we will sail through come Saturday [today].
“Everyone knows the importance of this match and that we will not have another chance to turn it around. The coaches have done their part and it is now up to us,” he said in an interview earlier in the week.
Coach Ronny van Geneugden said he is relishing a good start in his first competitive home game.
“As I said, the battle is not over yet. What is important is to play according to plan and stay focused.
“Also when you play at home you have 10 to 15 percent advantage and if we can have a full stadium supporting their team, then it will give us an edge,” he said.
The Belgian tactician also said they have worked on the shortfalls that were spotted in the first leg, citing loss of concentration towards the closing stages.
“There is another 90 minutes coming up and playing at home gives you an advantage, but we have to get an early goal so as to get equal and take it up from there without putting ourselves under unnecessary pressure.”
The development is a clear message that the coach will model his game on the best attacking system he has ever watched.
“We went to Madagascar with a plan to defend, that’s why most of the attack-minded players were left behind. On Saturday [today], we will attack a lot because we need goals to progress,” van Geneugden said.
Asked to assess Madagascar’s strength, the coach said they are a team with players that are technically and tactically good.
“It is very difficult to play with such a team but I believe in my players. They are capable of progressing,” he said.
His assistant Gerald Phiri said: “We have warned the players that if we fail to qualify, they will not have many chances of playing international matches to gain exposure.”
However, the coach has kept faith in most of his charges that were in the starting line-up in the first leg, but is tipped to make three or four changes with recalled battle-hardened midfielder Joseph ‘Shakira’ Kamwendo, Mannase Chiyesa and Ishmael Thindwa set to replace Chimango Kaira, Harvey Nkacha and Muhammad Sulumba.
Silver Strikers forward Binwell Katinji could also replace Dalitso Sailesi.
Kamwendo said he is ready to make a difference should he crack the coach’s nod.
“The most important thing will be to get things done first. I want to help the team turn around the tables and also prove a point that I still have plenty of gas left in my tank,” he said.
Robin Ngalande has again failed fitness test while Isaac ‘Tcheya’ Kaliati and Mecium Mhone are also out due to the uncertainty surrounding their eligibility.
Madagascar coach Auguste Raux was quoted by L’ Express on Thursday as saying they will switch to a different formation.
“We know Malawi will go flat out to attack so as to get the goals, so we will have to tighten the defence, but that does not mean we will sit back. We will be hoping to catch them on the break,” he said.
The match will be beamed live on Zodiak TV and MBC TV.
Flames possible line-up: Ernest Kahobwe, Stanley Sanudi, Francis Mulimbika, Lucky Malata, John Lanjesi, Katinji (Sailesi), Yamikani Chester, Kamwendo, Banda (C), Ishmael Thindwa and Chiyesa.