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Meke Mwase concedes eSwatini no longer walkovers

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By Mphatso Malidadi:

Flames caretaker Coach, Meke Mwase, has admitted that eSwatini are no longer underdogs and his charges must be alert and ruthless when they meet in tomorrow’s 2020 African Nations Championship first round, first leg qualifier.

This will be Mwase’s first game in-charge after being named interim boss following the expiry of Ronny van Geneugden’s contract last month.

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The Flames left the country for eSwatini Thursday morning through Chileka Airport in Blantyre via South Africa ahead of the match set for Mavuso Sports Centre in Manzini.

Mwase said his troops know the significance of the away match in their quest to advance to the next stage of the continental competition.

“We explained to the players about the importance of the match. Being an away match, we all know what we want to achieve. It will be suicidal to underrate eSwatini because football has evolved,” he said.

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Mwase is being assisted by Be Forward Wanderers Coach Bob Mpinganjira and Silver Strikers mentor Lovemore Fazili.

The former Flames defence pillar has named a combination of youthful and experienced players in his squad.

Mwase has included experienced strikers Chiukepo Msowoya of Nyasa Big Bullets, Moyale Barracks’ Gastin Simkonda and Be Forward Wanderers hitman Zicco Mkanda, who have returned to the side after being sidelined on different occasions.

The TN Stars coach has also named Flames under-23 players such as Charles Petro, Hassan Kajoke, Patrick Phiri, Chimwemwe Idana and Mike Mkwate.

eSwatini have indeed improved on the international football stage, with Mbabane Swallows becoming their first club to reach the group stage, of a Caf competition after a dramatic 4-2 triumph over AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville in 2017.

Swallows’ exploits in the Confederation Cup sent shockwaves across the continent in a competition Malawian clubs have found difficult to register results.

But the tiny mountain kingdom nation lies 143rd on the Fifa rankings, having gone down by three steps, while the Flames are 128.

eSwatini came agonisingly close to qualifying for their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) – which would have doubled as their first major tournament – but were pipped to a place at Gabon 2017 by Zimbabwe.

Despite narrowly missing out on a dream place at the continental showpiece, the minnows will take heart from their spirited efforts in 2016, during which they rose from 133rd at the beginning of the year to 99th in the January 2017 rankings—their highest-ever position.

This was a far cry from 2013 when Swazi football seemed to have sunk to its lowest ebb with the team languishing in 186th place of the rankings, having suffered a humiliating 10-0 loss at the hands of Egypt–the country’s biggest-ever defeat.

According to fifa. com, eSwatini recorded stunning home and away victories against Afcon qualifying Group L top seeds Guinea, which left them daring to dream about a place at Gabon.

And while it was not to be for the underdogs in the end, draws against Zimbabwe and Malawi, as well as the Guinea victories, helped fuel eSwatini’s steady ranking rise and forge a new sense of optimism among the squad.

That belief was demonstrated in the 2016 Cosafa Cup where eSwatini proved a thorn in the side of traditional powerhouses, storming to bronze-medal victory and matching their best-ever finish at the tournament.

It was also at the regional tournament that eSwatini forward Felix Badenhorst, one of the stars of the national team, caught the eye of many African clubs with his keen eye for goal, eventually finishing as the competition’s top scorer.

While the vast majority of Swazi players ply their trade in their homeland, Badenhorst broke the mold by joining compatriot Mthunzi ‘Xavi’ Mkhontfo in moving to Congo DR giants AS Vita after impressing at the competition.

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