By Duncan Mlanjira
The country’s former football maestro, Ernest ‘Wire’ Mtawali, has described his involvement in FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s expected visit to Malawi as a great honour and a privilege to him as he will participate in the Mpira Stadium inauguration match on Wednesday in which he shall play against fellow African football legend, Samuel Eto’o Fils.
Eto’o, who is special advisor to Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Ahmad Ahmad, is part of Infantino’s African tour entourage that include Ahmad himself as well as former French international attacking midfielder Youri Djorkaeff, the 1998 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2000 winner — who is now the FIFA Foundation CEO.
A statement from Football Association of Malawi (FAM) says Eto’o, a two-time African Cup of Nations champion; a three-time UEFA Champions League winner and one-time Olympic Games champion, will lead a team of FIFA and FAM officials that will also comprise Infantino, FAM president Walter Nyamilandu and Djorkaeff.
The FIFA/FAM team will also feature other high-profile FIFA and FAM officials including Flames coach Meke Mwase and his assistants Lovemore Fazili and Bob Mpinganjira as well as Malawi Under-20 coach and former Flames captain Peter Mponda.
On the other hand, Mtawali who played club football in South Africa, Argentina, France, Italy and Saudi Arabia, will lead a team of former Flames greats that includes big names like Patrick Mabedi, Chancy Gondwe, Swadick Sanudi, Joseph Kamwendo and Fischer Kondowe among others.
Legendary coaches Kinnah Phiri and Yasin Osman will be in charge of the FIFA/FAM and the Flames Legends respectively.
The match is one of the activities lined up ahead of Infantino’s first visit to Malawi, whose main objective is to inaugurate the Mpira Stadium and the FAM Football Academy which were funded under his FIFA Forward initiative.
“It will be a great honour and a privilege to be part of such an auspicious and historic occasion,” Mtawali said. “The most important thing is the launch of Fam academy which heralds a brand new dawn for our football.
“The future of our football is in the youth and as a legend, I thank FAM for this initiative.
“Also the importance of Mpira Stadium cannot be overemphasized. We, the former players never had such a facility for proper training and accommodation
“The Mpira Stadium will play a considerable role in the development of game. To the FIFA president and to Fam president and his team, I say kudos to you,” Mtawali said.
FAM general secretary Alfred Gunda said the country is excited to host the FIFA delegation, which will arrive at the Chileka Airport on Wednesday at 2pm and will proceed to Mpira Village in Chiwembe where Infantino will be led on a tour of the facility and its official inauguration in the company of Malawi Minister of Sports Francis Phiso.
“It is very exciting to see Etoo and Djorkaeff coming to Malawi and play a match. Malawians have for a long time been looking forward to seeing Eto’o in Malawi.
“Flames have never played Cameroun with Eto’o in it. We have had big stars from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Ghana and elsewhere coming to Malawi but not Eto’o.
“As FAM we thought of also honoring our own sons to come and be part of this great event
“Having the FIFA president in our country to appreciate our football development projects is exciting. It gives us a chance to showcase what we are doing with their money and enable as lobby for more,” said Gunda.
Mtawali said he was excited to be called for such a match and thanked FAM for the gesture.
“This is a great initiative to have former players come together and mingle with top officials — we hope this should continue beyond this meeting,” he said.
Infantino’s delegation also comprise FIFA GS Fatma Samoura, FIFA Deputy General Secretary Football Mattias Grafstrom, FIFA Acting Head of Member Association Veron Mosengo-Omba, FIFA Head of Communication Onofre Costa, FIFA Presidents Office Manager Federico Raviglione and FIFA Regional Development Officer David Fani.
They will leave the country at 8pm in the evening the of same day. On Monday they were in Antananarivo, Madagascar on the first leg of the African tour that will also take them to Mozambique, Lesotho, Angola, Congo DR and Congo.
In Antananarivo, the FIFA president met President of the Republic of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina, as well as hold meetings with Malagascar FA president and members of his executive committee.