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Fiery flames dare ‘lions’

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By Peter Fote in Bafoussam, Cameroon

Malawi National Football Team, the Flames, are beaming with confidence hoping to stun number one-ranked team in Africa, Senegal, to reach the last 16 of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon.

The two Group B sides will meet this evening at Kouekong Stadium, with their other opponents Guinea and Zimbabwe also clashing at the same time in Yaoundé.

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It is a must-win game for the Flames, who lie third in Group B with three points, a point below joint leaders Senegal and Guinea.

A draw for Malawi will place them in contention for the four best third-placed sides who will join top two teams from each of the six groups in the last 16.

Despite featuring a star-studded side including Liverpool’s Saido Mane, the Lions of Teranga have struggled in front of goal.

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However, the Flames will likely be without goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe, who is down with a suspected malaria attack while captain Limbikani Mzava is also a doubt following a hamstring injury he sustained in Malawi’s 2-1 win over Zimbabwe on Friday.

“Mzava is still being assessed but, basically, he should be out for six weeks. We might not have Kakhobwe as he is down with malaria. Anything can happen; the two may miss the game,” the source said.

Nevertheless, Flames’ interim head coach Mario Marian Marinica is optimistic that his 129-ranked side can shock the 20th ranked team in the world.

“My message to the boys remains the same. They should be focused; keep the same energy we showed against Zimbabwe and aim for the result. We are craving a positive result against Senegal,” said Marinica, who will be on the touchline for the first time, having missed Guinea and Zimbabwe games after testing positive for coronavirus.

Marinica has injected new life in the Flames as the team is attacking with speed, with the likes of Francisco Madinga and Peter Banda showing flashes of brilliance.

Forward Gabadinho Mhango, having missed Guinea’s game, returned to the side in splendid form, banging a brace as Flames came from a goal down to sink Zimbabwe 2-1.

Marinica has plenty of options in both defence and attack while the likes of Khuda Muyaba, Richard Mbulu and Yamikani Chester are also being challenged to rise up to the occasion.

Mzava has urged his colleagues to put up a spirited performance in today’s game and get the much needed result.

“I am still being assessed so I don’t know whether I will play. However, I encourage my colleagues to put up a gallant fight,” he said.

Flames are up against Senegal’s full squad as Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly are available for the match having tested negative for coronavirus.

Senegal Coach Aliou Cissé welcomed the two who missed the team’s games against Zimbabwe and Guinea.

“This is a must-win game for us to qualify. No team is simple at Afcon but we will play to win. Everybody in camp knows how important this win is for us,” he said.

Malawi are winless in the last two outings against Senegal. The Lions of Teranga defeated Malawi 2-1 during last year’s Cosafa Cup in South Africa.

The Flames defeated Senegal 2-0 in All Africa Games on August 4 1987.

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