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Flames get reality check

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Malawi national football team coach, Ernest Mtawali— with a 2015 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup quarter-final spot guaranteed—made seven changes to his starting XI, and the result was a 2-0 loss to South Sudan at Bahir Dar Stadium on Friday.

The result saw the Flames, who finished on six points, relinquish group C leadership to the 134th-ranked South Sudan, who have seven points. The 97th ranked Malawi meet Group’s B top team—either Burundi or Kenya in Monday’s quarterfinal in Addis Ababa.

The loss was a timely reality check for Mtawali, who went for a dynamic 3-1-4-1-1 attacking formation while handing a cap to Fisd Wizards captain, Levison Maganizo and restoring goalkeeper Richard Chipuwa and Yamikani Chester to the starting eleven.

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The idea was to have more attacking players who can play it quick, fast and low against the towering South Sudanese, who only became an independent football nation three years ago.

With Pilirani Zonda and Sankhani Mkandawire joining regular John Lanjesi in a three-man defence, Chester and Isaac Kaliyati operating from the wings, Malawi played their best passing football here, but Sudan just got their counter-attacking tactics spot-on.

After Malawi played some 10 uninterrupted passes, South Sudan intercepted Maganizo’s back pass and released James Saeed, who shrugged off retreating Mkandawire, and met a long ball before drilling it past an outstretched left arm of Chipuwa on the seventh minute.

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The Flames, with Chawanangwa Kawonga playing as a lone striker, did everything right, but by the half-hour mark, they had no shot on target.

The towering opponents asked Chipuwa questions again after 33 minutes, but the Be Forward Wanderers keeper dived to block Saeed’s shot, before the 1.9 metres forward again dragged his shot marginally wide.

Sensing trouble after the break, Mtawali pulled out the ineffective Chester for Gerald Phiri Jnr, then Kawonga for Chiukepo Msowoya, while South Sudan brought in another holding midfielder Sebit Martinez for striker Khamis Leon Uso in a defensive tactic that kept dominant Malawi at bay.

Kaliyati turned and fired from range, but Sudan’s spiky-haired goalkeeper, Juma Jenaro Award, stumbled and punched the ball out in the 47th minute. Then Msowoya skied a free header from Phiri’s corner-kick a few minutes later. Eventually, South Sudan deployed delaying tactics and counterattacks.

A long-ball from South Sudan found Mkandawire unmarked, but the Big Bullets defender opted to stylishly let it fly past his head, hoping Chipuwa would gather it. Chipuwa dropped the ball and Martinez slotted into the open net in added time. The game was over.

In a post-match interview, South Sudan coach, Bilal Felix Komoyangi, attributed the win to the fact that they respected Malawi by playing a counter-attacking game, whereas Mtawali said he had no regrets with the loss.

“When you have a group of 19 players, you have to give them a chance and test your depth. They have the potential. They just have to believe in themselves. We dominated, but domination does not mean anything if you cannot win. In the last third, we were not quick enough,” Mtawali said.

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