The perennial underachievers who had miraculously wowed the country in their previous two games slumped to their usual losing self tonight at the Sam Nujoma stadium in Namibia.
They were looking for just a goal if they were to concede none against Lesotho in order to progress to the next round of the on-going Cosafa Castle Senior Challenge Cup in Namibia but instead of scoring they conceded with only a few minutes to time.
Jane Thaba-Ntso headed the winner with 7 minutes to play to give Lesotho the win they did not need for them to be in the quarterfinals.
Flames mentor had maintained the same line up that beat Mauritius on Tuesday, with Rafick Namwera partnering Gerald Phiri Jnr in the midfield.
However, that paid no dues. Malawi did most of the chasing in the game as you would expect from a side needing a win, but wasted some chances as Lesotho looked to hit them on the counter attack.
The first two chances fell through to Phiri Jnr who saw both efforts well saved by Lesotho’s shot-stopper who was very outstanding throughout the match.
Gabadinho Mhango who had been brilliant against 15 year old Angolan goalkeeper earlier in the week fired over the bar from close range before missing another chance minutes later.
Today, he was not in a position to score another hat-trick.
At the other end, Charles Swini produced two double stunning saves to deny Ntso from giving his side a lead as Malawi’s defence was caught napping in the line of duty.
With five minutes to play in the first half, old guard and ineffective Chiukepo Msowoya was substituted for Muhamad Sulumba.
The change still failed to give Malawi the goal they needed so badly. In the second half, the Flames were able to keep possession but unlocking Lesotho’s defence proved too difficult for Mtawali’s boys.
Mhango had a chance to put his side in front when he was set through by Namwera but the former Big Bullets forward volleyed over the upright bar.
Minutes later, Joseph Kamwendo almost got the opener but his right footed volley went wide from the goal mouth.
Keeping in mind that goals were needed on the day to save Malawi, Mtawali brought in John Banda for Isaac Kaliyati but the former Blue Eagles winger failed to make any impact as Lesotho defended jealously.
Lesotho had their chances too but lacked the cutting edge as Miracle Gabeya and Harry Nyirenda partnered very well to deny the tiny nation a chance of finding the back of the net.
However, Thaba-Ntso stunned the seasoned losers that are the Flames by heading past Swini into the net just inside the Danger zone to make it 1-0.
Clearly, the journey to the quarterfinals was over. Malawi was back to singing the same song: too close yet too far.
Mtawali threw his last dice in the radar by bringing in Peter Wadabwa for Phiri but it was too late to save Malawi from exiting the tournament in the group stages of the competition.
Speaking to the media after the defeat, Mtawali conceded defeat and accepted that his charges were second best on the day.
“We did not play well especially in the first half and we deserve this defeat,” he said.
The result sees Lesotho progressing to the quarterfinals as group leaders with 9 points and will play South Africa on Saturday, with the Flames finishing as runners up with 6 points. As for Malawi, they need to wait for another year if they are to end their Cup drought.