Malawi produced one of the strongest underdog performances to hold the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) runners up Senegal to a goalless draw in their final Group B match played at Kauekong Stadium on Tuesday evening.
On this evening, the Flames even threatened to score.
The minnows had a penalty, awarded by the Cameroonian referee Ngwa Yuven, overturned by VAR in the 74th minute when Bouna Sarr was judged to have brought down Gomezgani Chirwa.
Coach Marian Mario Marinica made three changes to the side that defeated Zimbabwe a few days ago, with Charles Thom making his full debut in place of Ernest Kakhobwe who is ill, Micium Mhone returned to the first eleven for Richard Mbulu whilst Lawrence Chaziya replaced Limbikani Mzava who sustained a hamstring injury during the Zimbabwe game.
Seven minutes into the match, Sadio Mane scooped the ball over the cross bar from Boulaye Dia’s dangerous pass into the box.
At the other end, Gabadinho Mhango’s penalty shout was turned down by Yuven and even though he was in agony, play continued and nearly punished the visitors who lost possession in their half to Myaba who wasted no time by releasing a thunderous shot which just missed the upright with an inch.
The first yellow card of the match went to Cheikhou Kouyate who fouled Mhango in the right flank of the field.
Mane had another effort at goal well saved by Thom, who was having an outstanding performance in his first match for the Senior team.
The Flames had another opportunity just after the half-hour mark when Mhango’s freekick was deflected for a corner by Kouyate which was wasted by the Flames forward.
Malawi were now playing better than the Lions of Teranga and nearly had a goal in the 39th minute through Chirwa who made a brilliant run to the left before being denied by Edouard Mendy who returned to Senegal’s starting eleven after recovering from Covid-19 and that was all for the half.
After the recess, the visitors came out with a bang as they attacked from all cylinders to try to unlock Malawi’s defence.
In the 48th minute, Abdou Diallo’s distinctive header was tipped over the cross bar by Thom.
Five minutes later, Diallo once again found himself unmarked inside the 18-yard box but his header from a freekick went over the crossbar, to the relief of Marinica’s led technical panel.
Chaziya was booked for a dangerous play on Mane on 58th minute and conceded a freekick on the edge of the penalty box.
Dia stepped up and saw his effort from the set piece well saved by Thom for a corner kick which was easily dealt with by Chaziya.
Marinica made a double change in the 66th when he brought in Mbulu and Yamikani Chester for Myaba and Mhone who were having a very quiet game.
Their opponents introduced Pape Gueye for Dia in the 71st minute.
Gueye almost scored with his first touch in the 73rd minute but he misjudged the ball before heading wide off Thom’s right goal post.
Malawi thought the game was theirs in the 74th minute when Yuven awarded them a penalty after Sarr was judged to have fouled Chirwa in the box but after an intervention from VAR, the decision was reversed to the disappointment of Marinica’s charges who should have capitalized from the situation.
Idana and Madinga paved the way for Robin Ngalande and Gerald Phiri Junior in the 78th minute to try to grab something out of the match.
But it was Thom who produced another save in the 85th minute to deny Famara Diedhiou, who came in for Diallo.
The Teranga Lions tried their level best to find the back of the net towards the end of the match but Malawi stood firm to frustrate one of Africa’s heavyweights and favorites for the Afcon title.
Thom was named man of the match for his outstanding performance.
The result means Senegal and Guinea have earned an automatic qualification to the knockout stages but the Flames have to wait for a confirmation from CAF if they have made it to the round of 16 as one of the four best losers with their four points.
The four slots are being competed by Cape Verde, Tunisia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.
Four of the six teams will join 12 teams that will earn an automatic qualification to the knockout stages.