After the tough draw for the African qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup finals on Tuesday, affable Meck Mwase struck all the right chords to stoke his Flames into optimism.
However, the more Mwase tried to extract positives from this Group D of death that has lions and elephants it was difficult imagining how this feeble charges would pull a ‘Daniel’ and come out of this pit unscathed.
“This is a challenge we will face as Malawi,” Mwase said after the Flames were drawn against Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Mozambique.
“We need to grow. We have been paired against those famous teams before. We have played against Cameroon before and we drew at home with them so anything can happen in football.”
So the long and short of it is that Mwase thinks the forthcoming qualifiers present his charges a challenge and an opportunity at the same time.
The Flames coach believes in football anything can happen and that beating the Indomitable Lions and Elephants is not a far-fetched dream.
Over and above that, even if Malawi does not qualify from the group, playing against the big boys of continental football would help his charges grow a thick skin.
Mwase added: “The good thing we can have from this group is that the boys will grow as they will have a feel of playing against these big teams. We need to come up with a proper strategy when meeting these continental giants.”
Asked if he expected to be paired against the continental giants, Mwase said: “You don’t expect anything when there is a draw. What you expect is what has come out of a draw.”
The second round draw took place at The Nile Ritz-Carlton in Cairo, Egypt where 14 teams that sailed past the preliminary round were joined by seeded 26-top ranked African sides.
To qualify for the second qualifying round, the Flames scorched the Zebras of Botswana 1-0 on aggregate, an away 0-0 draw in Francistown followed by Gerald Phiri Junior’s late striker from the penalty spot at Kamuzu Stadium last year after Richard Mbulu was fouled.
In the second round, there are 10 groups of four teams each and only group winner will advance to the third and final round which will see the 10 teams face each other in two-legged ties to produce the best five finalists for the World Cup finals.
The second round qualifiers will kick off in October 2020.
Malawi will go into these battles are underdogs as they are the least ranked on position 124 compared to 105 for the Mambas of Mozambique, 55 for the Elephants and 53 for the Indomitable Lions.
Malawi and Mozambique have never come closer to World Cup qualification whereas Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire have been there seven and three times respectively.
No other African team has qualified for the World Cup final seven times.
In fact, inspired by ageless Rodger Milla, Cameroon were the first African team to reach the World Cup final in 1990, losing to England in extra-time.
Head-to-heard record between Malawi and Cameroon favours the Indomitable Lions who have won thrice and lost once to the Flames with the rest of three games ending in draws across all competitions.
Malawi last hosted Cameroon on October 16 2018 in an Afcon qualifying game that ended goalless at Kamuzu Stadium.
Earlier, Cameroon had won 1-0 the first leg in Yaonde courtesy of captain Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo- Moting wonder strike.
The Indomitable Lions are, after sacking Clarence Seedorf after a disappointing 2019 Afcon campaign in Egypt, led by Portuguese Toni Conceicao.
All these statistics are a pointer that the Flames have slim chances of scorching the Lions.
Head-to-head between the Flames and Elephants also favours the West Africans who have defeated Malawi four times, lost once with the rest being a 1-1 draw.
In that stalemate, Cote d’Ivoire visited Blantyre on October 10 2009. In that game Malawi midfielder Jacob Ngwira headed the hosts in front from a corner-kick, only for the then captain Didier Drogba to come off the bench and score through a free-kick past goalkeeper Swadick Sanudi.
The Elephants eventually topped the group and qualified for the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa while the Flames could only make it to Afcon finals in Angola as third best finisher across all pools.
On playing personnel, Cote d’Ivoire have quality in the likes of Tottenham wing-back Serge Aurier, Crystal Palace’s flying forward Wilfred Zaha, centre-back Eric Bailly (Manchester United) and mercurial winger Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal).
On paper, the Flames can fancy their chances of scorching the Mambas. But again, in all competitions, the Mambas have defeated Malawi 10 times, lost nine and drawn also nine.
Nonetheless, former Flames striker Esau Kanyenda said Malawi has the chance to qualify provided they win all home games and collect maximum points from the Mambas.
“Seven points can take us to Qatar,” Kanyenda said.
History does not favour the Flames as in the qualifiers for 2018 World Cup, Malawi crashed out from the preliminary round after losing 2-1 to Tanzania.
Whatever the case, you have to like the optimism of football prophet Mwase who believes in possibilities.
Group A: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Djibouti
Group B: Tunisia, Zambia, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea
Group C: Nigeria, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Liberia
Group D: Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Malawi
Group E: Mali, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda
Group F: Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Angola
Group G: Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia
Group H: Senegal, Congo, Namibia, Togo
Group I: Morocco, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan
Group J: Congo DR, Benin, Madagascar, Tanzania
Peter Kanjere is a versatile Journalist currently working for Times Group as Assistant Editor for The Daily Times.
With vast experience in the industry, he is also an accomplished Sports Analyst, whose exploits in sports reporting and analysis span beyond the length and breadth of the African continent.