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Futile optimism on Flames

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Analysis by Peter Kanjere:

APPOINTED THE COACHES—Van Geneugd

If the definition of a good performance is keeping the ball and bossing possession, then Malawi national football team impressed in Tuesday’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying game against Cameroon at Kamuzu Stadium.

Most fans trooped out of the Blantyre arena feeling bullish that the Flames took on the African champions pound-for-pound in the Group B contest that ended goalless.

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The only missing puzzle, the public jury claims, is just finishing. Yes, 19 games and 16 months later under Ronny van Geneugden’s (RVG) reign.

The Flames were not afraid to build up play from the back and pass the ball with ease, a fact which RVG alluded to during a post-match press conference at the stadium.

“I am very proud of my players. We decided to play an open game, man-to-man against such strong team. We played well especially in the first-half. We had a very big chance to score but it was not to be. We will keep on working hard with this young squad. I was also happy with the chemistry between the fans and the team,” he said.

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Taking his turn, Cameroon Coach Clarence Seedorf also hailed the Flames, saying: “It was a difficult match, difficult field of play against a very aggressive opponent.”

That the Flames dominated the game is a fact but any notion that the performance was impressive leaves out context because the home team’s aim was to win this game and boost their chances of qualifying for Afcon.

In Football Association of Malawi President Walter Nyamilandu’s comments, RVG was hired to steer the Flames to the 2019 Afcon finals and he should be judged after the qualifiers.

“We hired RVG to take us to Afcon and not winning the Cosafa Cup or other matches, so after the qualifiers we will sit down to assess him. To fire RVG at this stage would be a mistake,” The Daily Times’ edition of September 20 2018 quoted Nyamilandu as saying.

In that context, Tuesday’s result was a missed opportunity. It was two points dropped rather than one gained.

A win would have taken the Flames to within a point of third-placed Morocco who have seven points, one behind the leaders, Cameroon.

Assuming that the Flames beat Morocco and Comoros, then that translates to 10 points.

But for the Flames to sail through, it all depends on how Morocco would perform at home against Cameroon, who too, must host Comoros. Surely, nothing is in the Flames’ hands.

Malawi have four points from four games or eight points dropped. They beat Comoros Islands 1-0, lost 3-0 to Cameroon and 1-0 to Cameroon before drawing 0-0 on Tuesday against the Indomitable Lions.

In the four qualifying games, Malawi has scored one goal and conceded four. The Flames have, in all competitions, not scored in four consecutive games or 360 minutes, won twice in 19 games of 10 draws and seven losses.

At this stage, performance is not and should not be measured by the number of passes especially when the ultimate aim is competing and not participating. Madagascar have qualified because they won games and not owing to ball possession.

Only teams that will amass the most points in the groups will make it to next year’s Afcon in Cameroon.

Now, the Flames have to figure out how they will fare in Comoros Islands on November 16 then at home against Morocco in March.

From how Seedorf set out his team on Tuesday, it was clear the Indomitable Lions came for a point and, even minus six regulars including home leg scorer Eric Maxim Choupo- Moting, got it.

The visitors played so deep and tried to invite in the Flames so as to hit them on the break.

Yes, holding Cameroon, the African champions who are ranked 50 compared to the Flames’ 123 out of 206 ranked national teams in the world, is no joke but that result alone hardly represents progress especially when you consider the fact that in all the 19 games RVG has been in charge, Malawi have been playing beautifully with no goals to show for it.

And the Belgian mentor has not solved the Flames’ scoring problems let alone identified his main scorer!

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