Malawi’s Flames cornered then humbled Botswana’s Zebras into submission before rendering them into a sumptuous braai for starving Kamuzu Stadium fans in Blantyre Tuesday.
The party continues for the Flames who proceed to 2022 Fifa World Cup second round of the qualifiers, joining 39 other teams to be split into 10 groups of four teams each with 10 group winners to compete in the final round for a flight to Qatar finals.
A draw will take place to decide the Flames’ group. The road to Qatar remains windy but, for now, the party continues for the victory-starved home fans.
The party, which Fifa sponsored, was courtesy of Gerald Phiri Junior’s 80th minute bullet from the penalty spot after the visitors’ overzealous defender Thatayaone Ditlhokwe had fouled hardworking forward Richard Mbulu.
It was a perfect reward for coach Meck Mwase’s young brigade on afternoon that threated to end in yet another disappointment for the anxious home fans who, before yesterday, had seen their team go winless in four consecutive home games of all competitions.
The last time the Flames won at home was in June 2017 in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier that saw Malawi beat Comoros Island 1-0, courtesy of Phiri’s free-kick.
Tuesday, Phiri, who hit the post from a trade mark free kick in the 21st minute, made the difference when he stepped forward and fired the bullet beyond Botswana’s goalkeeper Kabelo Dambe who dived in vain.
With that goal, the Flames had made it 1-0 on aggregate after the preliminary round first leg match, which was played in Francistown on Saturday, ended goalless.
The goal ignited celebrations at the 15,000-seater facility. Flames players embarked on a victory lap around the pitch and soon Football Association of Malawi President Walter Nyamilandu, his deputy James Mwenda and other officials joined the celebrations on the pitch.
The Flames are far from making it to the World Cup but there was reason for celebrations as this team is notorious for disappointing at the last hurdle.
During the game, Malawi scored against the run of play just when the Zebras, who needed any scoring draw to sail through, threatened to score.
Goalkeeper Brighton Munthali had to be alert to keep out Mogakolodi Ngele’s freekick that was destined for the near post top corner in the 71st minute.
Fatigue seemed to be catching up with Malawi and coach Meck Mwase responded by replacing out-of-sorts striker Gabadinho Mhango for Robin Ngalande whereas Botswana captain Joel Mogorosi paved the way for Omaatla Kebatho.
Earlier, Francis Sitsile sent his header over the bar after Munthali had earlier denied Ngele with a smart save just as he was about to score.
It was a complete change of complexion of the game for the hosts, who had a lion’s share of possession in the first half.
Mhango sent his free kick marginally wide in the fifth minute after Mbulu was fouled.
The cause of Botswana was not helped by the injury of Mpho Kgaswane who was replaced by Onkabetse Makganthai in the 11th minute.
Malawi dictated play but decision-making in the final third proved problematic evidenced by skipper John Banda’s failure to do justice to Yamikani Chester’s cut-back in the penalty box.
However, Botswana regained composure in the late stages of the first half but Munthali frustrated Mogorosi and Ngele.
On the other end, Mbulu headed over the bar to waste left-back Precious Sambani’s cross from the left wing.
Malawi clung on to win the match in what was Mwase’s second game in charge after signing a one-year contract.
In a post-match interview, Mwase said Botswana gave his team a run for their money.
“It was a tough game but at the end of the day only one team had to win. I am happy that it is us who have gone through,” he said.
Botswana assistant coach Mogomotsi Mpote, who spoke on behalf of his boss Adel Amrouche, said they did not start the game on the front foot.
“Congratulations to Mwase. We tried to push for a goal but didn’t create enough chances. In the first half, our transition was very slow,” he said.
Now Malawi proceed to the second round comprising 14 preliminary round winners and 26 seeded teams to be split into 10 groups of four teams each.
The 10 group winners will advance to two-legged knock out round to produce Africa’s best five World Cup finalists.
The last time Malawi attempted qualification to the 2018 World Cup final ended in a 2-1 aggregate loss to Tanzania.