…to play second leg on Sunday…
Kamuzu Stadium may not have been packed, but there was far more of a vibe, and considerably more spectators in attendance than at an average Super League game.
With humid weather and a wet artificial turf, the Flames Under 23 failed to demonstrate their abilities as they went down 1-0 to the Zambian Under 23 side in the first leg of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
From the word go, Meke Mwase’s boys looked fragile and paid dearly for failing to have a ball winner in the middle of the pack.
To make matters worse, the 5-4-1 formation where Hassan Kajoke was playing alone upfront paid no dividends as Malawi failed to dismantle Zambia’s strong defense.
The lack of physicality in the home side proved to be their downfall, with the midfielders failing to coordinate, resulting into massive pressure from the visitors but Malawi’s defense was on point to clear any danger away.
Isaac Kaliyati, Chimwemwe Idana, Precious Sambani and Levison Maganizo were completely out of the game but Mwase was not in a hurry to make some changes.
The only realistic chance fell through to Kajoke who received a pass from Peter Banda only to miss in a one on one situation with Zambia’s goalkeeper Mangani Banda.
Mauritius referee Ahemed Heerallal ruled Malawi’s goal out for a foul on Banda who was brought down by Dennis Chembezi.
From there, the visitors controlled possession through their attacking trio of Enock Mwape, Fashion Sakala and Patson Daka.
The Zambians almost opened the scoreline just few minutes before the recess but goalkeeper Brighton Munthali produced a double save to deny Sakala from finding the back of the net.
In the second half, the visitors continued from where they stopped in the first half, and this time around, creating chance after chance but their finishing was very poor.
The hosts were under siege, losing more possession and were mostly caught off guard as the midfield was failing to contain Mwepu and Kings Kangwa who were attacking from all cylinders.
Mwase’s decision to take out Mike Mkwate for Patrick Phiri and Maganizo for Francisco Mkonda backfired as the midfield was completely left dead and invited more pressure from the visitors.
The moment that the Zambians were waiting for arrived in the 78th minute from a corner which was put into the net by Sakala who was left unmarked, 1-0.
Moments later, the Young Chipolopolo boys launched another stunning counter hurricane attack when Idana was caught sleeping on duty to give away possession to Boyd Msonda who found Sakala in the left flank only to be denied by the post.
At the other end, the Flames had their only chance in the half through Phiri whose long range drive was easily taken care of by Banda in goals for the Zambians.
With less than 7 minutes to play, the visitors saw their goal bound effort well cleared by Trevor Kalema and after 90 minutes of play, 1-0 it ended in favor of the visitors.
Speaking to the media after the defeat, Mwase said his midfield was completely out of the game but he was quick to warn his opponents that the tie was far from over.
“It’s very sad that we lost at home because we were very assured of a result but that’s football, you win some, you lose some.
“My midfield lacked coordination and we have three days to fix the problem before the return leg on Sunday. This tie is far from over,” he said.
His opposite number Beston Chambeshi hailed his boys for the win.
“We should have won the game with more goals but we weren’t lucky. It’s good to get a result away from home and I congratulate the boys for the gallant fight.
“Playing on the artificial turf wasn’t easy because the ball was moving too fast but at the end of the day, we won and I am very sure of another entertaining second leg encounter in Zambia,” he explained.
The two teams will square off for the second leg on 24 March at Heroes Stadium for the return leg.
The winner will face either Burundi or Congo Brazzaville in the final qualifying round.
The eight team African Zone Olympic qualifier will be hosted in Cairo, with top three teams qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
For Malawi to qualify, they must score more than a goal without conceding.