Flames and Cecafa attitude


For a sub-continental competition that is treated as trivia back home, it is ironic that Malawi national football team has, in four Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup guest appearances since 2006, failed to get past the quarter-final stage.

And on the evidence of the Flames deceptive showings in this year’s edition currently underway in Ethiopia, it will take something spectacular to change that trend.

Flames coach Ernest Mtawali is not fully satisfied with the overall performance of his charges who are playing more like a select team but, at the same time, it appears he is yet to appreciate the tougher challenges ahead.


“We want the quarterfinals, why not even semifinal and final?” Mtawali said.

In the group stages, Flames few senior players have not fully stepped up to the plate. Midfielders and strikers are not pressing enough. Malawi is playing an uncharacteristic long-ball game.

Gaps between players and departments are too evident. Players do not seem too willing to receive return passes as they tend to hide.


Passing has been problematic, thankfully this bunch just knows how to grind out results, scoring five goals in two matches while letting in one as of Thursday.

On a promising note, unlike in the previous editions, it is young players who are making the mistakes, hence there could be room for learning and improvement.

Former Under-20 players such as Miracle Gabeya, Stanley Sanudi, Dalitso Sailesi, Isaac Kaliyati, Schumacher Kuwali and Chawanangwa Kawonga have dominated the team.

Among the senior players, if there has been an exception then it is the commanding form of goalkeeper Simplex Nthala who is redeeming himself here.

Overall, it just seems Malawi came here thinking they are defending champions.

Bad attitude and poor preparations have always been the Flames undoing. Little wonder, few back home did not feel there was need for warm-up matches ahead of this cup.

Therefore, while progression from group qualifying stages to the last-eight of this year’s edition has been a mere stroll on Bahir Dar Stadium after 2-1 and 3-0 wins over Sudan and Djibouti respectively the Flames’ return to Addis Ababa for the quarter-finals could pose challenges to Mtawali’s charges.

Addis Ababa is relatively at a high altitude, hot and bigger crowd attendance will certainly translate to more pressure. Perhaps a bigger challenge is that quarter-final opponents will be stronger.

The resort town of Bahir Dar (meaning land at sea) has a very kind weather, which Mtawali felt was ideal for his charges.

“The weather is like that of home. We have had no breathing difficulties,” Mtawali said.

On the pitch, save for Sudan which pushed the Flames all the way to the last drop of sweat with Nthala’s telling saves ensuring a hard-fought 2-1 win on Monday, the next meetings against Djibouti, Sudan and South Sudan did not cause much discomfort. If anything, the Flames were their own worst enemy.

“I am disappointed with the way we played [against Djibouti]. From the first whistle, everybody was losing the ball,” Mtawali said on Wednesday.

“Maybe our attitude was wrong, but we need to realise that there are no easy games. We need to improve.”

The road to the quarter-final was smoother compared to the other editions when Malawi were always thrown in groups with at least three tough opponents.

In 2006 in Addis Ababa, Malawi- –boasting experienced players such as Joseph Kamwendo, Heston Munthali, James Chilapondwa and Aggrey Kanyenda struggled in a group comprising Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda.

In the 2010 edition held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the then Kinnah Phiri-led Malawi battled against Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia and crashed out from the quarter-final stage.

In the next competition, Flames were grouped with Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia. In each of the past four editions, the best Malawi could achieve were a win, a draw then loses.

A well-prepared Malawi should be easily winning regional competitions such as Cecafa.

This year’s Cecafa Cup edition was not on Fam calendar, yet the competition is always held late in November up to the first week of December.

Yet, history suggests that it was the East and Central Africa Senior Challenge Cup glory years of 1978 and 1979 that acted a spring board for a maiden 1984 Africa Cup of Nations qualification.

In Ethiopian vernacular, Addis Ababa means a new flower.

Ahead of the quarter-final, the Flames budding flowers need to treat Cecafa with the right attitude and respect it deserves if they are to advance past the last-eight stage against this region’s football powerhouses such as defending champions, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Logically, one is supposed to excel in lighter assignments without breaking sweat. So, if Cecafa is a Mickey Mouse tournament, why have the Flames not won it since 1988?

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