The Malawi national football team get their Cosafa Castle Cup mission underway this evening at Old Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, South Africa, with a match against Mauritius.
The Flames are seeking to better their performance in last year’s edition of the regional football showpiece when they failed to win in three preliminary round games to bow out without scoring.
Malawi Coach, Ronny van Geneugden (RVG), on Saturday said he was looking at nothing short of bringing home silverware whereas Vice- Captain, John Banda, predicted that they would win the cup.
RVG said: “We want an improved performance compared to last year and what is improved performance? To play well and score goals. Last year, I was just two months old on the job and most of the players were here for the first time. So this year they have the experience.”
Mozambique-based John Banda, who looked sharp in training on Friday and Saturday, said the players have self belief that this could be the Flames’ year to spring surprises.
“The coach believes in us and we need to repay that faith by playing well. As the president [Football Association of Malawi, Walter Nyamilandu] says, this is the harvest year. We will win silverware at this tournament,” Banda said.
Malawi started last year’s competition with a 2-0 loss to guests Tanzania before posting goalless draws against Mauritius and Angola.
Since that time, Malawi are unbeaten but it is the too many draws that have been worrying.
RVG looks set to hand Bright Munthali of Silver Strikers a starting role between the sticks, with John Lanjesi leading the backline.
Rafik Namwela will dictate play in midfield alongside Banda while Richard Mbulu and Gastin Simkonda with likely start upfront.
In the other camp, Mauritius are minnows in continental football, with their win of Indian Ocean Islands Games in 1985 and 2003 as their biggest success on the international stage.
In fact, Mauritius only reached the Cosafa Cup group phases twice and have not played substantive friendlies except against a local side which they beat twice and drew once.
The islanders are coached by Brazilian Francisco Filho, former assistant to the then Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
Their other milestone was qualifying for the 1974 Africa Cup of Nations finals and Filho will be keen to see his charges passing through the group stage in South Africa and inch towards the quarterfinals.
On paper, Mauritius are underdogs but football has evolved. Surprises are many.
Mauritius have quality players such as striker Andy Sophie, who top-scored in the country’s local league.
He will be joined in attack by Kevin Bru of Ipswich Town in the second-tier of English football and Lindsay Rose from France’s Ligue 2.
“The players are concentrating on the championship which is quite difficult. I had the opportunity to see players evolve during the Asian tour recently. It will be necessary to refine the defence,” Filho told the press in Mauritius.
The weather is mild and it promises to be a good tournament as most teams have brought foreign-based players.
Flames probable line-up: -Munthali, Chembezi, Sanudi, Cholopi, Sambani, Namwera, Banda, Sailesi, Ngalande, Simkonda, Mbulu.
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