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The gospel called Flames progress

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Two years ago, Malawi’s Flames, under the tutelage of Ernest Mtawali, posted four wins, five defeats and three draws in his first 12 games in charge.

Fast forward to 2018, the next full-time Flames Coach, Ronny van Geneugden, has, in his first 12 games, chalked two wins, three defeats and seven draws.

Put that into percentages, Mtawali, who Football Association of Malawi (Fam) felt did not deserve another contract beyond his one-year tenure, managed a 25 percent winning rate in the 12 games.

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In contrast, van Geneugden, the Belgian who Fam thinks is gradually getting his possession-based attacking football on track, has realised a 16.66 percent winning rate.

That the Flames are playing beautiful football is a fact.

The build up from the back to midfield is full of rhythm and fluidity. But while under Mtawali the defending was shoddy, the Flames still played beautifully and controlled possession.

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So, is Fam honest in thinking that van Geneugden is making progress with the Flames?

Obviously, Fam General Secretary, Alfred Gunda, predictably and expectedly thinks so.

“You have to start from somewhere. To win, you have to first stop losing,” Gunda told MBC Radio 2 FM on Thursday morning.

To agree with Gunda, since losing 2-0 to Tanzania at the Cosafa Castle Cup in South Africa last year, the Flames are unbeaten in seven consecutive games.

It is for this reason that van Geneugden picked plenty of positives, especially on defensive discipline, from the Flames’ gusty performance that saw them return from Kampala unscathed following a goalless duel with the Cranes of Uganda.

But after the seventh draw and the third in a row, the question is not whether the Flames performance in Uganda was impressive, but whether the team is progressing as the coach wants his disciples to believe.

“Uganda are a very strong team physically. They also have some technical players. We know that they are ranked a lot of places [78] in front of Malawi [123], but we were ready to start the game. Unfortunately, just before the start of the game, there was heavy rain,” van Geneugden said after the game.

The Belgian’s reign started with a goal-less draw in Kenya during a friendly and two straight 1-0 defeats by Madagascar were seen as a learning curve, and so were two draws and a loss at the Cosafa Cup.

But 12 games and 11 months later, the Limbikani Mzava-led defence has looked solid but the same cannot be said about the fluency upfront.

To put matters into perspective, van Geneugden was hired last April and he was charged with turning the Flames into an attacking team that was to play with flair, pride and passion. Attacking teams outscore opposition.

That is not the case with the Flames who control possession but lack penetration in the attacking third and precision in front of goal.

Under Mtawali, the Flames had in the opening 12 games scored 12 goals and conceded 14.

Seven goals conceded against five represents contrasting fortunes that the Flames were better in attack under Mtawali and that the team is now defensively solid.

“[Nonetheless], it was a very good performance and we look forward to the Cosafa Cup in May [in South Africa],” van Geneugden said in reference to the Uganda game.

Malawi cannot score two goals let alone three against any opposition even Mauritius and Lesotho.

It all points to lack of fluency upfront—a problem that has always dogged the team.

Poor finishing reflects on TNM Super League standards. The league’s strikers struggle to hit double digits and the foreign-based strikers such as Gabadinho Mhango, Chawanangwa Kawonga, Atusaye Nyondo and Robin Ngalande are not consistent scorers.

It all goes back to the same old problem of poor development process for Malawi football.

Poor finishing and mental frailty are the twin problems that necessitated the hiring of van Geneugden.

Unfortunately, in the wisdom of Fam, the coach was tasked with healing football from top to bottom, starting with the senior team instead of the juniors.

Fam believes van Geneugden can roll out his philosophy across the board inside his two-year contract.

Just like other expatriates before him, van Geneugden is likely to leave Malawi football in the very state he found it, if not worse

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