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Flames out with pride

Gabadinho Mhango stuns Afcon

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Malawi National Football Team, The Flames, put up a spirited performance but still got kicked out of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals at Round of 16 stage after losing to Morocco 2–1.

Striker Gabadinho Mhango gave Flames fans false hopes with a wonderful strike in the seventh minute of the match at Ahmadou Ahidijo Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon, last night.

Mhango’s goal could be one of the contenders for goal of the tournament as he unleashed a powerful shot that sailed past the goalkeeper to the far post.

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However, Morocco hit back to progress to the quarterfinals.

The Atlas Lions came from behind with goals from Youssef En-Nesyri and Achraf Hakim to seal a place in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017.

En-Nesyri equalised in added time of the first half with a powerful header before Hakim sealed the victory for Morocco from a free-kick in the second half.

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Morocco will face winners between Ivory Coast and Egypt, who will meet in another quarterfinal match this evening.

The Flames were hoping to cause an upset in the continental showpiece to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in history

The Flames started the match on a high with Mhango and Francisco Madinga threatening the Atlas Lions.

After Mhango’s goal, the Flames sat too deep and invited the pressure from Morocco.

From that moment, the Atlas Lions dominated the match and created numerous scoring opportunities but goalkeeper Charles Thomu made three crucial saves in the first half to keep Malawi in the game.

Before Morocco’s equaliser, Mhango had a chance to double Flames lead but he shot wide against the run of play.

Sensing danger, Flames interim coach Mario Marian Marinica made his first substitution when he brought Gerald Phiri Junior for Micium Mhone just before the break.

After resumption, the Atlas Lions continued to pile pressure on the Flames.

However, Phiri Junior was at fault when he fouled a Moroccan player.

From the resultant free-kick, Hakim scored a beautiful goal with his right foot as Thomu was helpless in the 70th minute.

After the goal, Marinica made several changes but it had little impact on the game. Richard Mbulu came in for Khuda Muyaba before Stanley Sanudi, Chimwemwe Idana and Madinga paved the way for Mark Fodya, Robin Ngalande and Stain Davie, respectively.

Marinica maintained the starting line-up that started in the 0-0 stalemate against Senegal in the group stage.

After a heroic performance against Senegal, goalkeeper Thomu retained his place ahead of Ernest Kakhobwe whereas the back four of Sanudi, Lawrence Chaziya, Dennis Chembezi and Gomezgani Chirwa also started.

Stand-in captain John Banda started his fourth consecutive match alongside Idana and Madinga.

Upfront, Marinica kept faith in Mhango and Khuda Muyaba.

The Flames reached the Round of 16 for the first time as third best losers with four points.

During the continental tournament, Malawi lost to Guinea 1-0, beat Zimbabwe 2-1 and drew against Senegal 0-0.

Line ups: Malawi: Thom, Sanudi, Chirwa, Chaziya, Chembezi. John Banda, Chimwemwe Idana, Francisco Madinga, Mhone, Mhango, Muyaba

Morocco: Bounou, Hakim, Saiss, Aguerd, Masina, Amrabat, Louza, Amallah, El Kaabi, En-nesyri, Boufal.

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