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End of a dream

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They battled, hustled and fought to the last drop of their blood to beat Tanzania 1-0 yesterday at Kamuzu Stadium, but Malawi national football team, the Flames, still left the stadium downcast after crashing out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Malawi exited the preliminary round of the qualifiers with a 2-1 aggregate loss to the Taifa Stars, who won 2-0 in the first leg played last Wednesday in Dar es Salaam.

Dubbed perennial underachievers, the Flames’ victory Sunday received the coldest reception, and it was as if the home team had once again lost.

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John Banda’s exquisite curler three minutes from half time was not enough to preserve the Flames’ dreams of staying in contention for their first ever World Cup qualification.

Going into yesterday’s match, the Flames had their work cut out after losing away to Tanzania.

This meant the Flames needed to win by a three-goal margin to qualify to the next round where they would have faced Algeria to book a place in the group qualifiers.

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Flames coach Ernest Mtawali bemoaned the first leg’s result.

“The two goals were too much to concede away. We should have gotten at least an away goal. That would have reduced the pressure on us. The guys worked hard, but the task was too much for them. It is sad to go out at this stage because we really wanted to qualify to the group stages,” he said.

Mtawali once again made surprise changes to the squad Sunday by handing a debut to Schumacher Kuwali who partnered Chiukepo Msowoya upfront.

Mtawali also kept his trust in youngster Miracle Gabeya to provide central defensive partnership with captain Limbikani Mzava.

At exactly 2 pm, Angolan referee Helder De Carvalho Martins, blew the whistle for the battle to begin.

Tanzania almost dampened the mood among the sizeable crowd at the stadium, when they almost took the lead inside the first minute of the match.

Flames goalkeeper Simplex Nthala made amends for his blooper in the first leg by denying TP Mazembe in-form striker, Mbwana Samata, in a one-on-one situation before saving the rebound from Farid Mussa.

The Flames settled quickly and attacked the Tanzania half at pace with Banda the main architect of chances. Micium Mhone and Kuwali also proved too hot to handle.

Banda showed his hunger by shooting from distance occasionally.

In the 10th minute, his left-foot scorcher danced off the right post after Tanzanian goalkeeper Ally Mustafa was clearly beaten by the curling shot.

Msowoya also proved to be a handful to the Tanzanian defence, but his aerial efforts went wide.

Tanzania were cautious and were aiming to punish the Flames on a break. And the visitors almost did that in the 32nd minute, but Thomas Ulimwengu shot wide after Mzava and Nthala failed to communicate at the back.

Just as the Flames’ hopes of a historical comeback seemed to have started fading, Banda brought the crowd on its feet with his power-packed bullet from the edge of the box.

The ball flew into the left corner of Mustafa’s goal, and the Flames fans reminisced of Banda’s heroics in 2014 when his goal against Benin cancelled out Benin’s advantage from the first leg and the Flames went on to make it to the group qualifiers of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

The Flames kept up the steam in the second half and Banda volleyed from distance again in the 58th minute.

Mtawali introduced Isaac Kaliati for Gerald Phiri Jnr and Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango for Mhone in quick succession as the clock was ticking closer to the finish.

As the game wore on, tempers started flaring on the pitch.

With 15 minutes left on the clock, Mtawali pulled out Gabeya and brought in Robin Ngalande in a move that meant attack-at-all cost.

Tanzania also brought in Mrisho Ngasa for Musa and they started enjoying possession and launched counter attacks against the reshuffled Flames defence.

Flames remote hope was blown away in the 89th minute when Mzava’s effort from a corner-kick was deflected over at a moment the astounded spectators that included Minister of Sports Grace Chiumia, rose on their feet in anticipation of a goal.

Tanzania coach Charles Mkwansa said the Flames gave them a tough run.

“They played quick attacking football and we had to be focused to maintain our advantage. We look forward to the Algeria game,” he said.

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