There is anxiety over Malawi national football team and Orlando Pirates star striker Gabadinho Mhango’s availability for next week’s 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou.
Mhango is a doubt after picking a groin injury during Pirates’ 1-1 stalemate against Stellenbosch in a Premier Soccer League encounter last week.
The injury forced him to watch from the sidelines as the Buccaneers thrashed bitter rivals Kaizer Chiefs 3-0 in an MTN8 first leg semifinal on Saturday.
Football Association of Malawi (Fam) Competitions and Communications Director, Gomezgani Zakazaka, said they expected to get a clear picture about Mhango’s availability by Friday.
“We are in constant touch with Orlando Pirates’ physicians on Mhango’s injury. For now, we cannot give full details about the injury. All we are doing is give the club a chance to assess him. Thereafter, we will be told what happens next.
“We have up to Sunday before the Flames leave for Burkina Faso. This leaves us in a 50-50 situation. We may or may not have him for the Burkina Faso trip. We can only wait because he is with his club,” Zakazaka said.
Flames Coach Meck Mwase is keeping his fingers crossed on Mhango’s availability as he aims at turning the tables upside down in the away encounter.
Mhango is the Flames’ key striker after his goal-scoring heroics won him the 2019/20 Premier Soccer League joint Golden Boot Award with 16 goals.
Speaking in an interview Wednesday, Mhango said there was little hope that he would be on the plane to Ouagadougou.
“I am slowly giving up. There is a medical fitness test that I have to pass. Personally, I am still pushing to be fit for the match. But I doubt if I would be given the green light to travel all the way to Burkina Faso.
“I am doing my best to push hard so as to make things work. But I am not going to force matters. If I do not make it, I know that the team is good enough to get the result. The team just needs to go out there and do its best. I love the team and I am optimistic that the players will do the best,” Mhango said.
Since taking over from Belgian mentor Ronny van Geneugden last year, Mwase has been using Mhango as his main striker.
The former Nyasa Big Bullets goal poacher was one of the stars that helped Mwase reach the 2019 Cosafa Cup quarterfinals in Durban, South Africa.
Lilongwe-based soccer analyst George Chiusiwa said Mhango would be missed in Burkina Faso as he is the Flames’ main striker.
“Gabadinho is no doubt our most potent weapon. Now that his absence looks likely, the coach needs to have some alternatives. This is particularly important now especially that the senior national team is not only campaigning in Afcon qualifiers but also in other assignments such as the Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
“In the context of the uncertainty over the availability of Gaba due to injury, coach Mwase should have a critical look at the possible combinations in attack based on the Zambia and Zimbabwe friendlies. The coach still has equally good tools at his disposal,” Chiusiwa said.
He said, with the remaining little time to prepare for the match, the coaching panel should try different combinations during training.
“There are other attacking players in the team who only need to have the belief and confidence. A tight, effective and more efficient midfield that can easily and effortlessly attack to create goals would be a useful alternative in the absence of Gaba. With Richard Mbulu having regained his scoring form, a creative and effective midfield will do the job. This should be the focus,” Chiusiwa said.