By Duncan Mlanjira
The Flames are out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying race after going down 1-2 to Côte d’Ivoire in Cotonou, Benin on Monday evening but coach Meck Mwase says he will take the remaining two qualifiers seriously to continue to fine-tune the team ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals in January in Cameroun.
The Flames are drawn in Group B alongside Senegal, Guinea and fellow Confederation of Southern African Football Association (COSAFA) member Zimbabwe and Mwase told Fam.mw that he was happy with the team’s performance against Côte d’Ivoire though they lost the game.
Playing as hosts in a neutral country, Côte d’Ivoire scored first through Nicholas Pepe inside the opening two minutes when he capitalized on Peter Cholopi’s failed clearance Malawi equalized in 19th through Khuda Muyaba, who fired home from the edge of the box after being put through by Chikoti Chirwa.
But the hosts scored what was to be the winner in the 66th minute through a penalty which was awarded after Dennis Chembezi was judged to have fouled Gervinho.
Côte d’Ivoire remain top of the group with 10 points — one ahead of second-placed Cameroun — who beat bottom-placed Mozambique 2-0 earlier in the day.
The Flames are third with three points and the maximum they can reach is nine points, which is below Côte d’Ivoire’s current tally. With one team making it to the next group stages, Malawi and Mozambique are out of contention for a place in the next round.
Talking to Fam.mw, Mwase said: “I believe we have gone down fighting. It was a very tough match but I am very proud of my boys for the fighting spirit they have shown today.
“I hope it would have been different in the first match if we had played like today,” he said referring to the 0-1 loss of the first leg.
“They have shown great character. It is very unfortunate that we have conceded those two goals. The penalty, I am not sure if it was a really penalty, but all the same I happy with the performance of the boys.
“We are out of contention to qualify for the next round but we still have two matches which we will take seriously.”
The AFCON host country Cameroun are drawn in Group A alongside Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Cape Verde while Group C has north African giants Morocco alongside Ghana, Comoros and Gabon.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria are in Group D with AFCON seven-time champions Egypt alongside Sudan and Guinea-Bissau while reigning African champions Algeria are alongside Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra-Leone and Equatorial Guinea in Group E while Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Gambia are in Group F.
The hosts, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions — who are five-time tournament champs, will host Burkina Faso in Group A opener in Yaoundé on January 9.