The train Flames cannot ride


By Ronald Mpaso:


The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers are well and truly behind us and teams across the continental now know their fate.

Out of the more than 50 countries that are affiliated to Confederation of African Football, close to half are still celebrating after qualifying for the finals of the continental showpiece which will take place in Egypt from June 21-July 19.


While several others, such as Morocco, Madagascar and Senegal qualified with a game to go, the majority of the qualified teams only became certain of their trip to Egypt last weekend.

Qualifying for Afcon finals may not be big news in some countries but to others, it is as good as winning the coveted cup itself.

In countries that have won the Afcon on several occasions, such as Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Cameroon, there may not be massive celebrations after qualifying for the finals of the competition but the case is different in many other countries.


One only needs to go to Tanzania to understand the real meaning of qualifying for the Afcon finals. According to, Tanzania beat rivals Uganda 3-0 in Dar es Salaam on Sunday to qualify for the first time since 1980.

The Taifa Stars secured the victory they needed to join already-qualified Uganda from Group L.

Lesotho drew 0-0 in Cape Verde which confirmed Tanzania’s qualification as runners-up to Uganda in the group.

It means four East African teams – Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya – will play at the finals.

Uganda went into the derby in Tanzania having not conceded a single goal during their entire 2019 Nations Cup qualifying campaign.

It is reported that the president of the neighbouring country, John Magufuli, offered each one of his players some land just for qualifying.

Burundi, ranked 138, qualified for the first time in their history with a 1-1 draw at home to Pierre Emerrick Aubameyang’s Gabon who were eliminated.

East Africa is not the only region that has benefitted from the expanded finals which now have 24 teams from the previous 16.

Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) has also made a sumptuous meal out of the bigger tournament to send five representatives in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Madagascar.

The development means Southern Africa has sent the most representatives to the continental showpiece in 21 years.

The teams will know their opponents after the draw for the first-round pool stages scheduled for Cairo on April 12.

Cosafa President, Phillip Chiyangwa, has since congratulated the five for their respective achievements.

“We are immensely proud of the teams from our region who will fly the Cosafa flag in Egypt and believe this shows the growing strength of football in Southern Africa,” Chiyangwa said.

“We believe this is a direct result of the work we, at Cosafa, have been doing at senior and junior national team level to help develop players in the region and give them exposure on the international stage.

“Players who have been unearthed in our Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments in the last few years are now stars of their senior teams and that is the exciting pathway that Cosafa provides.

“We wish all the teams the very best at the finals in Egypt and also commiserate with those who came close to qualification, but narrowly missed out.”

According to, Lesotho were one of those sides who came close to adding to Cosafa’s numbers at the continental finals when they were held to a 0-0 draw in the Cape Verde Islands, when a win would have seen them on the plane to Egypt.

Instead they finished third in their pool behind Uganda and Tanzania.

The Comoros Islands needed a win in Cameroon to clinch qualification but lost 3-0 to see their dream come to an end.

South Africa sealed their place with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Libya in neutral Sfax, Tunisia, with forward Percy Tau grabbing a brace of goals to send Bafana Bafana to their second tournament out of the last three.

Bafana needed just a draw but came away with a win in hostile conditions, with Tau scoring two excellent goals in the second period.

Zimbabwe sealed their place with a 2-0 home win over Congo- Brazzaville as Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona scored first half goals.

The Warriors also needed just a point to book their ticket but put in an emphatic home showing to seal their place in style.

Namibia lost 4-1 at already ousted Zambia, but still managed to advance to the finals as Mozambique were held to a 2-2 draw in Guinea-Bissau.

Both the Brave Warriors and the Mambas finished on eight points in their pool, but Namibia advanced via a better head-to-head record in the qualifying.

Angola sealed their place with a 1-0 win at already eliminated Botswana that saw them win their pool and advance along with Mauritania, while fancied Burkina Faso had to settle for third in the pool.

Madagascar had already sealed their qualification some time ago and finished their group campaign with a 2-0 loss to Senegal.

Lesotho narrowly missed out on qualification when they were held to a 0-0 draw in the Cape Verde Islands, when a win would have seen them on the plane to Egypt.

Such is the pathetic state of football in Malawi that the Flames cannot even qualify for a tournament to picks the best 24 teams in Africa.

They only managed to finish third in their group with five points, at par with Comoros, after winning just one game, drawing twice and losing thrice.

Football Association of Malawi may be wearing a brave face, insisting that the Flames are on the right track but the results point to the opposite direction.

The sad reality is that the Afcon train continues to leave us behind and there is little hope that we will catch it in the short term.

It will be painful to watch teams that are behind us on the rankings shining on the continental stage.

We certainly need to do better than qualifying for the Afcon finals on just two occasions.

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