Blantyre — Some football gurus have offered a word of caution to the Flames ahead of the team¡¯s crucial Cosafa quarterfinal tie against the Zebras of Botswana on Sunday and against Nigeria two weeks later.
The Allan Gillet¡¯s boys are in Gaberone, Botswana for the Confederation of Southern African Associations (Cosafa) Castle Cup competition game, which many local followers think is unpredictable. Botswana dismissed unlucky Namibia 1-0 last month to book themselves a quarterfinal berth and eventually a date with the Flames. The Flames, on the other hand automatically qualified for the quarters by virtue of being last year¡¯s finalists.
The Flames will a fortnight later travel to Lagos in Nigeria to fulfil a second leg return Africa Cup of Nations qualifying fixture against that country¡¯s Super Eagles.
Former Big Bullets Chairman Yusuf Matumula said that the young players introduced during the game against Zambia needed sometime to come to terms with the demands of international football. He said with persistent exposure to international games, the lads will be able to cope with the pressure that is always part of an international match.
¡°There is a sharp difference between being a star at club level and being a suitable star for national duty. Playing for the national team is something that many players tend to learn gradually until they become accomplished international players,¡± Matumula said, adding that some of the youthful players are not yet qualified for competitive games like the ones Malawi will be playing in Gaberone and Lagos.
Renowned football analyst Charles Nyirenda says if the friendly game Malawi played Zambia¡¯s Chipolopolo Boys last weekend is anything to go by, then the country should brace itself for a torrid time in the game against the Zebras on Sunday.
The Zambians are also preparing for a Cosafa Castle quarterfinal tie against Mozambique and against Tanzania in the Africa Cup of Nations next month.
Nyirenda said that Malawi¡¯s performance against the Chipolopolo Boys was disjointed, characteristic of an ill-prepared team. This was in contrast to a flowing Zambian game that was characterised by undisturbed cohesion in the entire game. But Nyirenda quickly noted that Malawi¡¯s unimpressive performance might have been as a result of the new faces that made over half of the team by the end of the game.
Gillet introduced six new enterprising players. They included Emmanuel Chipatala, Robert N¡¯gambi and Rahim Ishmael in the first half. Chipatala and Ng¡¯ambi were pulled out in the second. Other new players-Moses Chavula, Dick Malidadi and Petros Mwalweni-were introduced in the second half.
Gillet said after the Saturday game that he was impressed by the new blood in the team, hinting that Ishmael and N¡¯gambi ¡°controlled the midfield.¡± He hinted he might give them a chance to play in Gaberone.
But Nyirenda said that it would be suicidal to fully entrust competitive national responsibility on the young boys, as they still have about 10 games to go before they graduate into fully-fledged national team players.
He said that Malawi would still have to rely on old and professional players if the country will have to make a mark on the international football scene.
He cited Nigeria, whom Malawi play in three weeks time in the Africa Cup of Nations away in Lagos, as a team that has relied on professionals all along and have thus excelled.
Nyirenda said professional and experienced players have a high level of judgement and thus easily change game plan to suit them.
¡°Nigerians are talking of the Julius Aghahowas being available for their game against the Flames and that¡¯s pretty scary for us. We need to do something about it and strengthen our team if we are to outstrip them at their own backyard,¡± the analyst said.
Football Association of Malawi¡¯s Head of Super League Desk, Hubert Mfune, said as an association, they are not expected to interfere in the team¡¯s selection but facilitate the availability of players the coaching panel feels like assessing.
¡°If you have observed, that is what we have always done,¡± he said, explaining that Fam¡¯s technical committee, currently being headed by Henry Moyo, has a mandate to give direction to the coaches where necessary.
Mfune, who is also Fam¡¯s Treasurer, said however that he is personally optimistic that the team would do well in both upcoming encounters. He said he felt the coaches had been given enough time and an environment conducive for training. He cited the cancellation of Super League games to allow players stay in camp as a positive gesture of support from the football governing body and the Super League teams.
¡°Surely, I do think they will have any excuse,¡± he said.