By Peter Kanjere:
Malawi under-23 national football team showed their misfiring seniors how it is done on the international stage after qualifying for the second round of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers Tuesday.
Malawi date Zambia in the second round over two legs in March 2019, with the third and final round to decide who qualifies for the ultimate finals scheduled for Egypt next November.
Ironically, Malawi advanced 3-2 on aggregate after sharing the spoils 1-1 with Botswana at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre where Flames Coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG) and his deputy Peter Mponda—whose charges exited their own version of the continental qualifiers after losing 2-1 to Comoros Islands—endured boos all afternoon.
Achoke, achoke, the fans screamed from the open terraces upon catching sight of RVG, head down, walking to the technical area.
This was followed by boos when Mponda tried to join under-23 Coach, Meke Mwase, on the touchline.
Eventually, both senior national team coaches sat down motionless on the bench as if chained.
Malawi were not fluent and did not trade passes like the Flames, who Football Association of Malawi (Fam) President, Walter Nyamilandu—watching from the VIP Stand—likens to Barcelona.
But Mwase’s inspired substitutions and a more direct second half performance got the job done in the first round second leg march which ended 1-1.
Peter Banda replaced injured Patrick Phiri and scored in the 62nd minute, showing deadly composure, picking his spot and placing the ball past Botswana goalkeeper Thomas Manyelera.
Botswana equalised through towering Gape Gagoangwe’s looping header which few above goalkeeper Brighton Munthali after a free-kick in injury time.
However, it was rather too little and too late for the visitors who lost 1-2 to Malawi in the first leg on Saturday.
That Malawi did not display their best performance yesterday was unsurprising as the presence of RVG coincided with three changes to the starting line-up, goalkeeper Rabson Chiyenda, left-back Mark Fodya and midfielder Mike Mkwate paving the way for Flames’ Brighton Munthali, Precious Sambani and Phiri.
Asked why he went against football convention that you do not change a winning team, Mwase opted for diplomacy, saying: “This is what we planned so as to give more players exposure while preparing them for the senior team.”
However, it was clear that the changes affected the performance with Malawi making non-progressive passes in their own half.
On the other hand, Botswana were pragmatic and direct with Mpho Kgomo keeping the midfield ticking.
“Malawi is a good team but they played better in the away game,” Botswana Coach Mogomotsi Mpote told the press.
The first half was boring but all that changed when Banda came in with Francis Mkonda joining him to add stability and fluidity to the attack after replacing Ernest Tambe.
In a post-match interview, Mwase said: “Fam needs to do a lot in terms of preparing the team. For these games, we did not have the best of preparations but, between now and the next game, we need sound preparations.”
Malawi: Munthali, Sambani, Trevor Kalema, Hadji Wali, Charles Petro, Chimwemwe Idana, Gregory Nachipo, Tambe (Mkonda), Isaac Kaliyati, Phiri (Banda), Batison (Hassan Kajoke).
Botswana: Thomas Manyelera, Alfred Vilaphi, Mothusi Johnson, Thato Kebue, Thatayaone Ditlhokwe, Gagoangwe, Mpho Kgomo, Gape Mohutsiwa, Kitso Mpuinang, Mothusi Cooper, Tsepo Malgas (Kago Monyake)
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