Battle-hardened Malawi National Football Team has refused to be intimidated by history and statistics when facing Morocco in a Round of 16 Africa Cup of Nations finals tie this evening.
It is a swim or sink encounter as the two sides clash at the 90,000-seater Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
A reward for the winner is a quarterfinal slot in the continental showpiece.
This is the first time for the Flames to play at Ahidjo, having played all Group B matches at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam, where they lost to Guinea 1-0, beat Zimbabwe 2-1 and drew with Senegal 0-0.
Ranked 28th in the world, the stakes seem to favour the Atlas Lions to overcome the Flames, who are ranked 129.
In 10 meetings, Morocco have defeated the Flames six times with three games ending in draws while Malawi won once.
The Flames’ only win came 29 years ago on April 11 1993 whereas Morocco last defeated Malawi 3-0 in 2018.
Flames interim coach Mario Marian Marinica continued with his philosophical approach to games, saying he was hopeful of a better result.
“I am urging Malawians and all the fans to have hope but not high expectations. We have done our preparations and we are set for the match. We are convinced the boys are ready and it is my hope they will keep the same mentality and intensity we showed in the group stages,” he said.
Marinica admitted that Morocco were a top side but that should not be a reason for his charges to have an inferior complex.
“We are up against the most in-form team of the tournament, having gone 30 games without a loss. Eighty percent of their players play in Europe; so, we have to tread carefully,” Marinica said.
The Romania born- British citizen kept a tight lid on his probable line-up.
However, all the attention is on him on how he is going to pick his squad.
One of the key areas is the goalkeeping department as it is not known whether Marinica will maintain Charles Thom or recall Ernest Kakhobwe, who missed Senegal’s game due to illness.
Thom had an impressive debut when he made a string of saves to keep Malawi in the game against the star-studded Senegal.
In defence, Marinica will likely maintain Stanley Sanudi, Gomezgani Chirwa, Chembezi Dennis and Lawrence Chaziya, who has settled into the team despite earning his call up last month.
Marinica has been relying on Francisco Madinga, Christopher John Banda and Chimwemwe Idana in midfield while the likes of Micium Mhone, Yamikani Chester and Peter Banda have either started or came in as substitutes.
In attack, Orlando Pirates forward Frank Gabadinho Mhango will likely start with either Khuda Muyaba of Polokwane City or Baroka FC’s Richard Mbulu.
Meanwhile, Mhango, who scored two goals against Zimbabwe in the group stages, has asked his teammates to up their game.
“We need to be compacted and believe in ourselves. We have come this far because of hard work and we, as players, need to be united. We believe we can also do better against Morocco. Scoring two goals against Zimbabwe was good for my confidence,” he said.
However, Morocco Coach Vahid Halilhodžić, who is without Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech, said the Flames were a tough side, having reached the group stages.
“They made it to this stage because they are good and we cannot underrate them. We will try to play to win to progress to the next round,” he said.
Halilhodžić has a pool of talented players including Wolves centre-back Romain Saiss, Watford duo Adam Masina and Imran Louza, and QPR midfielder Ilias Chair.
The winner of the tie will face either Ivory Coast or Egypt who clash tomorrow in another Round of 16 tie
Peter Fote is a Sports Journalist with huge experience in radio and Television reporting, production and presentation. He once worked with Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and is currently working for Times Media Group.