Wasteful Malawi National Football Team paid dearly for not taking their chances as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to Guinea in a Group B Africa Cup of Nations finals match at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam Monday.
Covid-hit Flames were without seasoned campaigners Gabadinho Mhango, Robin Ngalande, Stanley Sanudi and Charles Petro, who missed the game after they were found with coronavirus.
Richard Mbulu arrived in Cameroon on Sunday and it was just in time for him to start on the bench.
In total, the Flames had 13 members of the squad including interim head coach Mario Marian Marinica unavailable for the match.
Despite being a depleted squad, the Flames could have taken the lead inside the first 10 minutes but attacker Yamikani Chester, who partnered Khuda Muyaba upfront, was not composed enough.
Chester twice failed to beat Guinea goalkeeper Aly Keita in one-on-one situations.
Guinea featured a star studded side including Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita but the Kaba Diawara side failed to stamp their authority.
Guinea went ahead in the 35th minute after left-back Issiaga Sylla beat Ernest Kakhobwe with a deft finish following an exchange of passes.
The Flames did not falter but launched a series of attacks which did not yield results.
Captain Limbikani Mzava and Peter Banda also had decent chances. Mzava forced Keita to make a fingertip save following a powerful free-kick.
Banda also curled a beautiful delivery but Keita was also on alert to make another fingertip save.
In the second half, Mbulu replaced Chester while Banda paved the way for Zebron Kalima.
Mbulu would have been a hero immediately but his weak shot failed to beat Keita.
If Flames, who are ranked 129 in the world, had depth, chances of snatching a point against the 81-ranked side were high. Unfortunately, the Flames were limited on the bench.
Flames coach Meck Mwase, who was in charge of the team in the absence of Marinica, bemoaned missed chances.
“We are not happy but the boys tried their best. We created a lot of chances. We didn’t utilise them. Our friends had maybe one chance and they got a goal. It is unfortunate that we didn’t utilise our chances,” he said.
In another Group B match, Senegal beat Zimbabwe 1-0.
The Flames will meet Zimbabwe on Friday before meeting Senegal on January 18.
Flames line up: Ernest Kakhobwe, Limbikani Mzava, Gomezgani Chirwa, Dennis Chembezi, John Banda, Chimwemwe Idana, Peter Banda (Zebron Kalima), Francisco Madinga, Micium Mhone, Khuda Muyaba and Yamikani Chester (Richard Mbulu).
Peter Fote is a Sports Journalist with huge experience in radio and Television reporting, production and presentation. He once worked with Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and is currently working for Times Media Group.