By Ronald Mpaso:
The country’s senior national football team and the under-23 side on Monday started joint preparations for the competitions they will be taking part in this year.
The Flames are preparing for the dead rubber 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Morocco’s Atlas Lions at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre on March 23 while the under-23s date Zambia in two back-to-back 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games qualifiers.
The junior Flames’ home fixture is scheduled for March 20 at Kamuzu Stadium, with the return match due to be played in Lusaka on March 24.
In preparation for the assignments, Football Association of Malawi released a list of players to undergo non-residential training from January 21.
The training sessions will be concluded this week, with the players taking to the pitch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Players based in the North trained under Charles Kamanga at Mzuzu Stadium, while those in the Central Region converged at Civo Stadium in Lilongwe under the tutelage of under-23 Coach Meke Mwase and his under-17 counterpart, DeKlerk Msakakuona.
Flames Coach Ronny van Geneugden (RVG), his trusted assistant Peter Mponda and goalkeeper coach Swadick Sanudi are taking charge of training at Kamuzu Stadium for all Southern Region-based players.
In an interview after releasing the call-up list, RVG said the session will mainly focus on helping the players to regain fitness as they are currently on an off-season break.
RVG said the arrangement to have the senior Flames and under-23 players train together is beneficial to both sides as it benefits players from both teams.
“It is something that we did last year when the senior team was preparing to face Comoros and the under-23 was training to play against Botswana. So there is nothing strange here.
“The only difference is that this training camp is non-residential and is mainly aimed at improving the physical fitness of the players. This is necessary because they are currently in an off-season break. We will break after two weeks and call them again later,” he said.
Flames Team Manager James Sangala said the first week of the sessions did not face any challenges in Mzuzu and Lilongwe, but was disrupted because of rains in Blantyre on Wednesday.
Sangala said it was difficult for players to run on a waterlogged track at Kamuzu Stadium, hence the decision to shift the training to Thursday.
“After Thursday’s session, it was necessary to give the players a break of one day. This meant that we had to finish week one’s training today [yesterday]. But nothing changed in Lilongwe and Mzuzu as there were no disturbances,” he said.
Sangala said the other challenge in Blantyre was the absence of under-23 starlets Peter Banda and Patrick Phiri. He said Banda was feeling unwell while Phiri was in Karonga to see his sick father.
The general expectation is that the two players will return for week two’s training sessions.
But the two teams that are training together have different missions to achieve in their respective competitions.
The Flames are simply looking for a win to save their faces after a disastrous year in which they disappointed in both the Afcon qualifiers and the Cosafa Cup.
RVG’s main mission in the Morocco match will just be to prove that his team is making progress as his two-year contract expires in April.
The under-23s are in the running for a place at the Olympic Games and a win in the home game is a must if they are to boost their confidence ahead of the away match.
Former Flames international, Peterkins Kayira, described the mixing of the two teams as a serious mistake as their objectives are different.
Kayira said players from the two camps should have been training at different match facilities because they need to approach their games differently.
“RVG is a surprising character. Could this be what his philosophy is all about? Are the two teams training together because of lack of training grounds or other resources? But whatever the case, putting the two teams together for such a long time is a serious mistake. It should not be happening that way.
“The under-23s are still in contention for qualification to the Olympic Games while the senior team cannot go anywhere even if it wins. This is where the objectives are different,” he said.
Kayira said during his illustrious career with the national team, such a development was unheard of.
He said there were times when a senior and a junior national team would train together briefly before parting ways.
One of the country’s Caf A Licence coaches, Bravo Chipelesa, also spoke against the move, saying senior and junior players should not be training together.
“I do not know how officials arrived at this decision but it is not good for football development. Technical panels for the two teams should work independently as they hope to achieve different goals. Their teams are in different competitions and will be meeting different opponents. So putting junior and senior players in the same training camp is not a good idea,” Chipelesa said.
He said the idea of non-residential training in different football grounds is also counterproductive as the players are being mentored by different coaches.
And after all is said and done, all what Malawians want is a winning team. If RVG believes that combining the two teams in training will bring results, let him go for it.
But last year’s joint camp produced different results as the Flames lost 1-2 to Comoros Islands in an Afcon qualifier in Moroni while the under-23s won 2-1 in Gaborone, Botswana.
It is yet to be seen if things will be any different this time.
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