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Flames get Cecafa mission underway

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After spending two days in Addis Ababa, the Malawi national football team have flown some 332 kilometres north west of the Ethiopian capital to kick-start their 2015 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup mission against Sudan Monday.

Sudan’s Nile Crocodiles should be more at home in the tourism hub of Bahir Dar City, which is the venue of the Group C matches.

This is the case as Khartoum is closer—-just some four hours of serious driving to Bahir. The 60,000-seater Bahir Dar Stadium is Ethiopia’s largest by capacity. And the weather is kind—not too hot or cold.

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Boosted by Mozambique-based striker, Chawanangwa Kawonga’s re-joining of camp, the Flames coach, Ernest Mtawali, is not bothered by the Sudanese who are smarting from Fifa World Cup African qualifiers’ exit.

“So far the players are really working hard and they understand each other having spent some time together,”Mtawali said in an interview at Afarensis Hotel in Addis Ababa on Saturday before flying to Bahir on Sunday.

The Malawi coach is taking a plunge into the unknown. This is the case as he has never had a taste of the East and Central African football showpiece at any level, including as a player.

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“As you know, the first match in a tournament is always crucial, but I think we have what it takes to get a positive result. Of course, Sudan will come with guns blazing after they were eliminated by Zambia in a World Cup qualifier,” Mtawali added.

With a record of a win, a draw and a loss since ascending to the helm on August 1 2015, Mtawali insists he is here to compete and fast-track his rebuilding project ahead of next March’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

On the evidence of training sessions here, Mtawali might stick to the starting XI that beat Tanzania 1-0 in October during a World Cup qualifier in Blantyre.

So unless otherwise, Chiukepo Msowoya should lead the attack, with John Banda and Chimango Kayira taking care of the midfield. It remains to be seen if, new-comer Nelson Kangunje, who looks lively in training, can challenge Gerald Phiri Jnr for the number 10 attacking role.

There also is a strong hint that John Lanjesi, Stanley Sanudi, Yamikani Fodya and Sankhani Mkandawire might marshal the defence, with Simplex Nthala given the nod again between the sticks.

On paper, Malawi have a slight edge as they are currently ranked 97th in the world with Sudan placed on a distant 128th. Additionally, Sudan go into the tournament having lost five back-to-back matches while scoring just once.

However, Sudan are no push-overs. They might be favourites for the 14-day tournament here. The Sudanese are a resilient bunch largely drawn from their established clubs, Al Merrikh and Al Hilal.

A tall man affectionately called Mazda (Hamdan Hamad) manages Sudan, who boast very experienced players such as 29-year-old Al Hilal striker, Mudather El Tahir, whose goals ousted Big Bullets from the Caf Champions League preliminary round.

In other games, South Sudan get the Group C matches in motion when meeting Djibouti at around 1 pm today before paving the way for Malawi’s game at around 3 pm.

The tournament kicked-off on Saturday with Rwanda stunning the hosts Ethiopia with a 1-0 win at Addis Ababa National Stadium to top Group A. Jacques Tuyisenge fired home the only goal for Rwanda in the second half.

Burundi beat Zanzibar 1-0 in a pool B clash. The action continued yesterday as went to press with Tanzania squaring up against Somalia followed by a grudge duel between Uganda and Kenya in a group B meeting.

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