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10-man Flames through

Three goals, a red card, a penalty, elbowing and kicking—Malawi national football team’s path to 2015 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup quarter-finals could not have been more dramatic Wednesday in Ethiopia.

On a sun-baked Bahir Dar Stadium afternoon that suffocated coach Ernest Mtawali’s predominantly inexperienced charges, it was ironic that it took the loss of striker Schumacher Kuwali to a red card to breakthrough Djibouti’s resistance in this group C match.

A minute after the Blue Eagles forward Kuwali saw red in the 33rd minute, Gerald Phiri Jnr scored from the dreaded spot in a second attempt, John Banda fired in the second four minutes later, and Chiukepo Msowoya killed it off as a contest after the break.

Yet, the win came at a heavy cost against an opposition that kicked and rushed play, closed spaces and pressed, tackled and elbowed Flames players on and off the ball, leading to the inexperienced Kuwali’s retaliation to the mob justice he received from Djibouti players led by Moussa Ahmed Hassan.

As Kuwali dragged himself off the pitch, his jersey pulled over his face with embarrassment etched all over face, Phiri stepped forward to score from a retake which did not convince Mtawali, who instantly withdrew the number 10.

Djibouti goalkeeper Abdullahi Idriss Abdillah was adjudged to have moved off his line prematurely before Phiri Jnr, who was substituted after scoring for Chawanangwa Kawonga, smashed his rising penalty kick against the upright.

Malawi, who maintained the starting line-up that defeated Sudan 2-1 on Monday, were able to score against an opposition ranked 110 places below them, but the standard of play itself was unpalatable.

The Flames could not pass the ball with ease, long aimless balls killed off rhythm, there was no transition in play and players seemed to hide every time their team-mate had possession. Mtawali has his work cut out in the quarterfinal where they might meet either Uganda or Burundi.

During the opening 10 minutes, somehow Djibouti striker Yaber Idriss Issa Moussa was gifted acres of space, but he blasted into the empty terraces. Djibuoti were soon punished.

Malawi started to exploit the gaps in the Djibouti defence. Phiri squared the ball across the goal-mouth from the left, but Msowoya’s header was blocked. Banda pounced from the rebound, only for goalkeeper Abdillahi to react the fastest to punch the ball away.

Minutes later Phiri scored from the penalty spot. One soon became two four minutes later when Banda burst into Djibouti’s penalty box to volley from Dalitso Sailesi’s left-flank hard and low ball.

After struggling on Monday against Sudan, Sailesi was at his best, teasing and flicking down the left wing. However, there was no doubt that Malawi were earning the money here—they went to break leading 2-0 and perspiring.

In the second half, Djibouti, who have never beaten the Flames, camped in the guests half, but their numerical advantage proved useless.

Soon scorer turned creator as Msowoya made it two goals in two games when he rose the highest at the far post to meet Banda’s free-kick and glance the ball past confused Djibouti goalkeeper.

Mtawali then rested Msowoya for Sankhani Mkandawire, whereas Isaac Kaliyati replaced exhausted Yamikani Fodya.

“We won, but I don’t think we played well. I am disappointed with the way we played. From first whistle, everybody was losing the ball. Maybe our attitude was wrong, but there are no easy games. We need to improve. We want to make it to the quarterfinals, why not even semifinal and final? Mtawali said in a post-match interview.

Flames now meet South Sudan in an academic match on Friday to merely confirm whether they would finish second or number one in the group.

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