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Vital lessons from Caf competitions

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The sight of visiting AS Vita outplaying, outpacing and outthinking Be Forward Wanderers at Bingu

National Stadium in Lilongwe on Wednesday was like that of a Toyota Carina TI making a vain attempt to compete with a Ferrari on a high way.

It was not just morally incorrect but unfair. A mismatch. You just felt sorry for Wanderers. Vita were bigger, faster, fitter and better.

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This was like a heavyweight boxer cornering a lightweight challenger.

Perhaps, Vita’s 84th minute second goal by Jonathan Baogi summed up all what was wrong with the hosts in this Caf Champions League preliminary round contest.

In the build up to that goal, the ball was somewhere wide on the right-wing where Wanderers lost possession.

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From the deep, Baogi started a run down the middle. Wanderers players could not just read such a run.

A ball was whipped behind Wanderers’ defence, leaving Baogi with the simplest of tasks of sweeping it far and beyond goalkeeper Richard Chipuwa, who came off his line too late.

Wanderers reacted seconds too late. The giants from the Democratic Republic of Congo showed speed of thought and split vision which Wanderers, the Malawi champions, lacked.

In conceding the first goal from Mundele Naku after 19 minutes, Nomads failed to clear Vita’s corner-kick from the rightwing.

Nomads, who had equalized in the 48th minute through Peter Wadabwa’s diving header, allowed balls to bounce all over the pitch, a thing which is unacceptable at this level. Wanderers’ players were amateurish in many respects.

Chipuwa has good reflexes and positioning but his judgement of set-pieces and ball distribution was suspect. In modern football, goalkeepers launch attacks by bowling the ball quickly forward, but Chipuwa put the ball down and kicked it forward every time he re-started play.

Starting play that way only afforded Vita time to retreat and regroup. Wanderers were supposed to show urgency in chasing the game, following the 4-0 loss to Vita in the first-leg. Wanderers needed to pass the ball faster and get into Vita’s half quickly, but the hosts’ combination play always ended with backward passes.

Nomads, through Joseph Kamwendo, won many free kicks but he pumped them high even when it was clear that Vita dealt easily with such deliveries.

Nomads played too many passes in their own half. When under pressure, the hosts struggled to clear their lines. Nomads wasted energy passing the ball in circles.

In contrast, Vita needed few passes to get into Nomads’ box. Vita managed their game whereas Wanderers players were too slow on the ball. They did not know what to do with the ball. Vita closed in, resulting in the Nomads misplacing passes.

Vita Coach, Jean-Florent Ibenge, made a similar observation, saying: “In the first-half, Wanderers were keeping the ball too much but they opened up at some point and that gave us space to play our normal game.”

Wanderers also featured too many small bodies with similar attributes. Yamikani Chester, Kamwendo and Felix Zulu could only offer the team one thing—ball-playing. Starting with Wadabwa alone upfront simply seized the initiative to the visitors.

Modern football demands that a ball-control should, at the same time, be a turn. Wadabwa needed that for him to escape Vita’s defenders. Unfortunately, he was unable to do that.

It was difficult for Wanderers coach to drill his charges on these basics of the game. Such basics are learnt at the academy and youth teams.

Malawi football legend, Kinnah Phiri, did not watch the match but, speaking over the weekend in Mzuzu, summed up what is wrong with Malawi teams.

“We may blame the boys for not scoring but you also have to count how many passes are going forward and backwards? You will find that 80 percent of the passes are going backward.

“The coaches will always tell them [players] to play the ball back and play it safe. How many times are they going to play it safe and not score? During our time, it was forward ever,” Kinnah said. Vita came, saw and conquered. They advanced to the first-round after beating Nomads 6-1 on aggregate over two legs.

Wanderers, on their return to continental football for the first time in 17 years, joined Masters Security, who too, found Atletico Petroleos de Luanda of Angola too hot to handle in Caf Confederation Cup.

Masters bowed out 5-0 on aggregate, having failed to score in 180 minutes while Nomads could only afford a single goal.

The premature exit of the two teams from Malawi is a fresh reminder that the country’s football is in the relegation zone.

Living in denial over this fact only makes matters worse.

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