The Malawi National Football Team opened their Group D campaign for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers with a 2-1 victory over Ethiopia at Bingu Nation Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors were the better side of the two, starting the game on the front foot, attacking The Flames’ defence on a couple of occasions with the first three minutes of the encounter.
But The Walias found themselves 1-0 down in the 10th minute after Amanuel Yohannes Gamo brought down Stain Davie inside the penalty box.
Gabadinho Mhango, who scored Malawi’s only three goals at Afcon, stepped up and slotted the ball past Dagim Tefera Tsegaye in goal for the visitors, 1-0.
However, Ethiopia could have equalized moments later when Hamid Suleman delivered a dangerous cross to Bereket Desta Dana who produced a powerful header to force Charles Thom into making his first save of the day.
The visitors were pressing and had more ball possession but they failed to unlock Dennis Chembezi’s led defence which kept on intercepting dangerous crosses from the wings.
Malawi’s failure to hold on to the ball saw them inviting more pressure from Ethiopians who were attacking from all angles.
The more the visitors attacked, the more they became vulnerable in defence and they nearly got punished again by Mhango who won the ball into the attacking zone and saw the goalkeeper out of his line but his shot went over the crossbar.
The Flames doubled their lead from the spot again after Mhango was brought down by Choul Git Gatkuoth in the penalty box in the 32nd minute.
The former Orlando Pirates man stepped up to put the ball into the net, 2-0.
With ten minutes left to play, Ethiopia had two chances to reduce the arrears but Malawi’s defence was just too strong and it was 2-0 as the two teams went to the break.
In the second half, Malawi’s Khuda Myaba had the first chance but his powerful header from a Stainley Sanudi’s cross went over the crossbar.
The Walias’s ability to hold on to the ball finally paid off in the 66th minute when Gerald Phiri Junior lost the ball to Henok Adugna Gerba who released Abubekar Nasir Ahmed into the box and the fast-paced winger player was brought down by John Banda, winning a penalty which he successfully converted, 2-1.
This brought them into the game and they pressed for the equalizer but Chembezi made a timely intervention to foil their plans of finding the second goal which would have put the game on level.
Mhango thought he had scored his first hat-trick in the Afcon games when he powered home a beauty from Sanudi’s cross but the second assistant referee’s flag was up in the air for an offside call.
Sensing danger, Marian Mario Marinica had to make a triple substitution when he brought in Charles Petro, Francisco Madinga and Chiukepo Msowoya for Phiri Junior, Chimwemwe Idana and Davie.
Malawi had an opportunity to increase their lead from a set piece just close to the penalty box but Mhango sent the ball straight at the keeper.
At 80 minutes, The Walias were all over the place, passing at will and creating shooting spaces but Marinica’s defence was very organized and kept Thom safe from the Ethiopians.
Myaba was then replaced by Micium Mhone.
The visitors had a chance to equalize when Ahmed delivered an inviting cross into the box but Chembezi made another important block before being assisted by Lawrence Chaziya who cleared the ball away from the danger zone.
Time was clicking against the visitors who were desperate for a goal and Malawi had to defend in numbers before Mhango’s substitution for a defensive midfielder in Chikoti Chirwa to try to assist in defence to avoid a last minute setback.
And it really worked as Flames defended in numbers and collected all the points to top the group with three points, with Egypt and Guinea playing later this evening.
Malawi’s next trip will be away to Guinea on Thursday.
Only two teams from Group D will make it to Ivory Coast next year. If successful, The Flames will make history by qualifying for Afcon twice in a row.
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