By Mphatso Malidadi:
After being perennial under achievers at the regional showpiece—Cosafa Cup—the Flames are breathing a new lease of life after stunning Namibia with a 2-1 comeback victory to book a quarter-final berth in South Africa.
The Flames date Zambia in the last-eight on Sunday as second-placed Namibia, who wind up the group qualifiers by facing bottom placed Seychelles, cannot, based on head-to-head, dislodge Malawi. The Flames face Mozambique Thursday in a dead-rubber.
Malawi, who had scored once and failed to win in six games of the 2017 and 2018 editions of the cup, have six points, Namibia (three points), Mozambique (one point) and Seychelles (one point).
Only overall winners of each of the four four-member groups proceed to the quarter-finals.
In Tuesday’s game, striker Gabadinho Mhango continued with his impressive form after scoring his second goal in two games to cancel out Ivan Kamberipa’s opener at King Zwelithini Stadium in Durban.
Substitute Gerald Phiri Junior got into the act, too, by converting a second-half penalty after forward Richard Mbulu was fouled, as the Flames made it two wins out of two matches to stay top of the group.
This was the fifth meeting between the sides in the Cosafa Cup but the first since 2008.
The Brave Warriors were clearly the favourites, having won three games and drawn once against the Flames in previous editions of the competition.
Malawi caretaker Coach, Meke Mwase, maintained the squad that defeated Seychelles 3-0 on Sunday but somehow the Flames started sluggishly whereas Namibia were more positive in attack.
It was not surprising that Namibia went ahead in the 16th minute when Flames players failed to deal with a corner-kick allowing Kamberipa to put the Brave Warriors in front with a near-post header beyond goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe.
The goal somehow confused Malawi as they lacked purpose when attacking but Mbulu could have equalised in the 23rd minute when he missed a sitter.
Mwase responded positively, pulling out winger Duncan Nyoni for Phiri Junior and the move invigorated the Flames to attack in numbers.
In-form Mhango continued with his outstanding display after creating a chance out of nothing to level the match with an audacious near-post volley on the turn in the 43rd minute.
In the second half, Malawi did not lose momentum and were duly awarded a penalty after Mbulu was brought down in the 18-yard box.
Phiri Junior did not make any mistake after producing a powerful penalty to put the Flames ahead in the 48th minute.
From that moment, it was an open match but Kakhobwe was alert in goals, leaving his line to make crucial saves on two occasions.
Mozambique-based Flames stand-in-Captain, John ‘CJ’ Banda, who was named man-of-the match hailed his charges.
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