Malawi beat South Sudan 1–0
Inspirational striker Gabadinho Mhango’s second-half thunderbolt provided the lone spark in an otherwise dull 2021 Africa Cup of Nations affair, as Malawi’s Flames started their Group B qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over South Sudan Wednesday.
Mhango struck an absolute 68th minute beauty—a replica of one he scored for Orlando Pirates in a Soweto derby against Kaizer Chiefs last Saturday— to spark celebrations at Kamuzu Stadium, Blantyre.
“Gaba! Gaba!” The fans chanted in a gig which continued after the final whistle.
The goal marked a second-half turnaround for the Flames, who under coach, Meck Mwase, remain unbeaten in four games with two wins and two draws in all competitions since he was handed the full-time job.
Minus regular left-back Precious Sambani and centre-back Charles Petro, Mwase threw into action Gomezgani Chirwa and Lucky Malata in what was the Be Forward Wanderers’ defender’s first Flames appearance since 2015.
Understandably, while providing the Flames the much needed aerial presence to deal with the long balls from the South Sudanese, Malata had a nervous start to the afternoon playing in front of equally unsettled goalkeeper Brighton Munthali.
The Flames found themselves struggling to play from the back and their attacking play was undermined by long balls that found workaholic Richard Mbulu isolated and outnumbered upfront by towering South Sudan defenders led by Khamis Uso.
South Sudan, who stunned Malawi 2-0 at the 2015 Cecafa Cup match in Ethiopia, played long balls aimed at Dominic Pretino.
It took 26 minutes for Malawi to pose a serious threat to the visitors’ defence as Mhango applied pressure on goalkeeper Majak Mawith forcing him to clear the ball hurriedly, only for Gerald Phiri Junior to have his rebound smothered by the visitors’ keeper in a second attempt.
South Sudan replied in the 32nd minute but Jose Nyuar headed against the crossbar before the ball rolled out of play.
A few minutes later, Mhango tried to fashion a scoring opportunity while operating from the wide area but South Sudan put numbers behind the ball. The first-half ended goalless.
In the second half, Malawi started on the front foot, Phiri released winger Yamikani Chester but before he could shot, South Sudan defender deflected his effort out for a corner kick.
Earlier, Mhango and strike partner Mbulu had penalty appeals ignored by Burundian referee Pacifique Ndabihawenimana.
However, there was no denying Malawi a few minutes later.
Mhango left his markers for dead, cut inside and fired the ball past the visitors’ goalkeeper Majak Mawith who slightly got hold of the ball before it bounced off the post and rolled across the goal line.
Mwase sought to tighten the grip on the game by substituting Phiri and Chester for Chimango Kayira and Robin Ngalande respectively whereas the visitors pulled out Jackson Morgan and Bol with Chok Dau and Emmanuel Lumeri to salvage something from the game.
The visitors’ best effort arrived a few minutes later but Yach Bol sent his effort to the terraces.
However, the Flames held on to the lead.
Mwase hailed his charges for overcoming the first-half nerves to win the match.
“This is the kind of start we wanted in the group. We wanted to win and congratulations to the boys for a job well done,” Mwase said.
South Sudan mentor Cyprian Lumeri was not available for a pre-match interview.
Malawi travel to Kampala for the second game against Uganda on Sunday while South Sudan travel to Sudan to host Burkina Faso due to renovations of the Bright Stars’ Juba National Stadium. Burkina Faso hosted Uganda yesterday.
Malawi: Munthali, Peter Cholopi, Malata, Chirwa, Stanley Sanudi, John Banda, Chester (Robin Ngalande), John Banda, Phiri (Kayira), Mbulu, Mhango.
South Sudan:Mawith, Peter Manyang, Dominic Aroma, Kenjok Athiu, Uso, Nyuar, Timateo Bernard, Jackson Morgan (Chok Dau), Yach Bol (Lumeri), Pretino, Stephen Lony