Polokwane means a place of safety in South Africa but after Malawi national football team’s 1-0 loss to Mauritius at Old Peter Mokaba Stadium in a Group B opener last evening, it is hard to imagine the Flames’ safety in the Cosafa Castle Cup here.
The Flames succumbed to Damien Balisson’s 14th minute goal as the islanders joined Botswana at the top of the group with three points, following the Zebras’ 2-1 beating of Angola at the same Polokwane City venue in an earlier kick-off.
The Flames Coach, Ronny van Geneugden, on a chilly evening deployed a pragmatic 4-4-2 formation with Captain John Lanjesi leading from the back comprising left-back Precious Sambani who was handed his full competitive match debut.
However, the Flames found the heavy-handed defensive tactics of the islanders too hard to deal with as Angolan referee, Herder de Carvallo, presided over not football but wrestling that had striker Richard Mbulu’s shirt nearly torn and he was lucky to finish the game on the pitch.
However, that is not the reason the Flames lost. Physically, Malawi had no answer to Mauritius’ deep defending, hard running and tackling. It was a question of who wanted the win the most and who knew what to do. Malawi passed the ball but they lacked a sense of purpose.
Mauritius knew how they wanted to win while the Flames tried to play from the back but passed the ball too much in their own half. Mauritius were rewarded for their more direct play and desire through a counterattack from the right.
A ball was whipped over Malawi’s retreating defence from the right to the left where Balisson lurked on the blind side before he burst clear to pick his spot to the right of diving goalkeeper Bright Munthali.
First-half ended with Malawi fighting for an equaliser through John Banda’s long range attempts. In the second-half, Robin Ngalande, impressive Sambani, Mbulu and substitute Patrick Phiri had the chances but they could not beat goalkeeper James Caserne.
The closest chance for Malawi fell on Phiri, who had replaced Dalitso Sailesi, but Jean Pierre came from nowhere to clear a goal-bound shot off the line.
But as Van Geneugden admitted, the going for Malawi, who next meet Botswana tomorrow and Angola on July 1, is getting tough.
“We have lost because we conceded too early and it was not necessary to do that. It is unfortunate that we lost. I am happy with the result but not the performance,” the Belgian said in a post-match interview.
His counterpart, Jean Fihlo hailed his charges for their dogged display, saying they were very organised and fought for their lives.
Malawi line-up: Munthali, Chirwa, Lanjesi, Cholopi, Sambani, Namwela (Msowoya), Banda, Sailesi (Phiri), Ngalande, Simkonda, Mbulu.
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