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Flames’ shame old story

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The Malawi national football team had another year to forget. The Flames continued with their free fall in the year about to end.

Their performance was below par and this meant that, if at all the team was in the news, it was for the wrong reasons.

One can hardly pick positives from the performance of a team that breaks people’s hearts each time it takes to the turf. Simply put, the team’s showing was awful in all competitions.

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The Flames did not give Malawians anything to celebrate about in the year 2017. The story continued to be the same as it has been for years.

The year started with the team playing a friendly match against Chinese side, Guangzhou R&F, during the official opening of Bingu National Stadium (BNS) in Lilongwe.

Gerald Phiri Senior was given the task of mentoring the team, which gave away a 2-0 lead to allow the visitors to force a 2-2 draw.

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Football Association of Malawi (Fam) then announced that they were working on recruiting an expatriate coach despite the government advising the country’s football governing body against the move.

The government’s position was that there were no resources to enable it bankroll the coach’s perks, but Fam insisted that it would find ways of generating the resources.

At a time when stakeholders expected to see the association shortlisting applicants for interviews, Fam announced that they had picked a European coach for the job.

As for what would become of Phiri and his assistant, De Klerk Msakakuona, Fam said they would continue but as the new coach’s assistants.

The association kept his identity under wraps until he landed at Chileka Airport in April. And that is when it was discovered that Ronny Van Geneugden of Belgium was the man Fam had picked for the hot seat.

The soccer fraternity looked forward to the day Geneugden would put on display what he had in store for the local game.

But, instead of moving forward, things went from bad to worse as the team continued to struggle in finding the back of the net.

Since the Belgian took over in April, the Flames have just scored five goals in eleven games while conceding 12.

In the course of the year, the Flames dropped 14 places on Coca Cola Fifa rankings—the worst in recent years after 1-0 back to back defeats to Madagascar in the Championship of African Nations qualifiers.

The Flames went on to drop nine places on the November rankings. By this time, Geneugden had won only two games since taking over.

Just before the release of the rankings on November 24, the Flames had drawn 1–1 against Lesotho at BNS.

The Flames only managed to beat Comoros Islands 1-0 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at BNS before beating Togo by a similar margin in a friendly match in Morocco.

The team’s pathetic showing continued at the Cosafa Cup in June when it failed to register a single win, let alone scoring in three games.

Geneugden’s charges only managed a 2-0 loss to Tanzania before misfiring in goal-less draws against Mauritius and Angola.

And as if the awful performance in South Africa was not enough, the Flames embarrassed the nation with their shabby uniform in all the three games.

The team’s kit was one of the major talking points of the regional tournament as pundits wondered how a whole national team would dress in an oversized, poor quality attire.

The then Sports and minister, Henry Mussa, blasted Fam for the embarrassment.

“Everyone saw, through the social media, that the entire region laughed at us. Why, in the first place, do we do things in half measures and in an inferior manner like that? I do not want to be party to that,” Mussa was quoted as saying in the local media.

Up to date, the Flames do not have a clear identity of the uniform they would be putting on in 2018 after the expiry of the contract with United Kingdom kit manufacturers, Umbro.

But after the Flames last game in the year, the Belgian said the current crop of players has a bright future.

“There is commitment from the players. The players are ready to die for the nation. They have a very good attitude,” he said.

Fam President, Walter Nyamilandu, also said he saw some signs of improvement in the team over the past 12 months.

Nyamilandu said it is pleasing that the team has adopted a new style of play.

“We may not be there yet, but we are making steady progress. The team has adopted a new style of play and new players are coming up. We are just lacking the cutting edge so that we become a real threat in the box. But, with time, we will get there,” Nyamilandu said.

However, winning two games, getting seven draws and crashing to three losses in 11 games does not make for good reading.

The Flames must pull up their socks in the New Year to give Malawians something to smile about.

In short, 2017 was a year to forget for the Flames.

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