Malawi National Football Team, the Flames, step onto the natural turf of King Zwelithini Stadium beaming with confidence to gloriously kick-start its 2022 Hollywoodbets Cosafa Cup campaign in Durban, South Africa, with Independence Day celebrations victory.
The Flames are hoping for a perfect start when facing Lesotho’s Likuena in a Group B match of the competition.
This is a tricky match for the Flames, who have failed to beat Lesotho since 2009 although meetings between the two sides have been rare.
Additionally, the country is today celebrating 58th Independence Day anniversary.
This is the time for Flames players to show great character and give Malawians a perfect gift on 58th Independence Day.
It will be shameful for Malawi, with a population estimated at 20.1 million, to lose to Lesotho with a population of about 2.1 million.
Since 2009, Malawi and Lesotho have met four times, with each side winning once but two matches ended in draws.
The Flames defeated Lesotho 1-0 during an international friendly before Likuena beat Malawi by the similar margin at the 2016 Cosafa Cup in Namibia.
However, two international friendlies between the two sides ended in 1-1 draws in 2017 and 2019. Probably, both Malawi and Lesotho have fair chances of winning today’s encounter.
Surely, the Flames must be brave against Lesotho to get maximum points.
But pressure will be on the Flames as they are the only team in this year’s Cosafa Cup that qualified at the delayed 2021 Afcon finals in Cameroon as Zimbabwe is not taking part due to Fifa ban.
Honestly, Flames coach Marian Mario Marinica has no excuse heading into the match, having named a strong squad comprising four foreign country-based stars striker Gabadinho Mhango, captain John Banda, Peter Banda and Khuda Muyaba.
The nation back home is expecting nothing less than a win in today’s encounter.
Ahead of the match, Marinica said his troops were ready to end bad omen against Lesotho.
“We are not under pressure, we hope that with the preparations, we had, we will go further this time. We expect a very tough match and it is our hope that we will come out with a win,’’ Marinica said.
Marinica has only included two goalkeepers Enerst Kakhobwe and Clever Mkungula. First choice goalkeeper Charles Thom and defender Dennis Chembezi have been ruled due to injuries.
Defender Gomegzani Chirwa is also doubtful for the opening match after he lost his passport. Skipper Banda said they are on a serious mission.
“We are not here to get involved only but to compete. This year, we will try to win the Cosafa Cup. We just need to believe in ourselves and fight for it,” Banda said.
The Flames will face eSwatini in the second match at the same venue before meeting Mauritius at Princess Magogo Stadium on Sunday.
Overall winner of Group B will face Senegal in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Malawi last reached the quarterfinals of the Cosafa Cup in 2019 but were eliminated following 4-2 loss to Zambia.
The Flames have never won the Cosafa Cup since it was introduced in 1997 despite reaching the finals in 2002 and 2003.
Last year, Malawi failed to win a single match in four matches having lost to Mozambique (2-0), Senegal (2- 1) and draws against Zimbabwe (2-2) and Namibia (1-1).
On the other hand, Lesotho coach Veselin Julisic has assembled a strong 23-member squad comprising goalkeeper Sekhoane Moerane, defenders Thabang Malane, Basia Makepe, mifielders Thabo Mafatle, Thepo Toloane, Lisema and strikers Lemohang Lintsa and Motebang Sera.
HEAD TO HEAD
May 23 2009: Malawi 1 Lesotho 0
June 16, 2016: Malawi 0 Lesotho 1
November 11, 2017: Malawi 1 Lesotho1
October 14, 2019: Lesotho 1 Malawi 1