Flames coach Meck Mwase made a surprise choice of recalled Gerald Phiri Jnr. to accompany him for their African Cup of Nations (AFCON) pre-match press conference ahead of their second Group B match against Zimbabwe on Friday.
Mwase has done this in the absence of head of technical panel Mario Marian Marinica, who was not cleared on Wednesday together with the others that tested CoVID-19 positive last Sunday.
Marinica dropped Gerald Jnr. in the 23-man squad from the Saudi Arabia training camp ahead of the finals on unexplained reasons — but what insiders divulged to have bordered on the midfielder’s negative attitude towards the head of technical panel’s instructions.
But after six players tested positive of CoVID-19 last Sunday, that saw Mwase alone on the bench in the 0-1 loss against Guinea with just two substitutes — two goalkeepers and two in-field players — FAM beefed up the squad with five more players on the reserve that included Gerald Jnr; Brighton Munthali; Paul Ndlobvu; Dan Chimbalanga and Stain Dave.
After been dropped from the travelling squad to the finals in Cameroun, Gerald Jnr. is reported to have announced his retirement from international engagements, saying he would concentrate on his duties with Al Hilal of Sudan.
It was thus a surprise that Football Association of Malawi (FAM) still recalled Gerald Jnr. and at the same time for Mwase to use the player ahead of deserving others to accompany him for the presser — at which normally a coach is supposed to be alongside his captain.
At the presser Gerald Jnr. is quoted to have said the “mood in the camp is buoyant and the players have resolved to go all out and get a win” against Zimbabwe, which Gerald Jnr. described as a “strong team”.
“We had a lot of opportunities against Guinea that we never made use of. Now it will be a different game against Zimbabwe,” he is quoted as saying by CAFonline.
Coach Mwase said: “We had a very good but unlucky performance against Guinea. We took note of our mistakes and playing Zimbabwe will be totally different.
“We have some players back after missing the first game. Zimbabwe are a very good side tactically, but I have told my players we are in a must-win situation.”
The all-Confederation of Southern African Football Association (COSAFA) encounter has been dubbed by CAFonline as the ‘Battle of the South’, who both will try to salvage their fortunes at the Total Energies AFCON on Friday.
Both teams lost their Group B opening matches — Zimbabwe conceding a late penalty in their 1-0 defeat to Senegal with Malawi going down by the same result against Guinea.
For the Flames to go past the group stages for the first time in their third AFCON appearance, they will need a win over their southern African neighbors as well as their last knockout qualifier against Senegal.
Zimbabwe also have an mission to achieve — to end an almost 16-year drought since the Warriors last won an AFCON game. They beat Ghana 2-1 in 2006 but have failed to win in their last seven AFCON finals matches, gathering just a couple of points in the process from draws.
In their first AFCON appearance in 1984 in Côte d’Ivoire, the Flames made a huge impression when the led 2-0 against Super Eagles of Nigeria but the game ended 2-2. They lost 0-1 against Ghana and 0-3 against Algeria.
In their second in Angola in 2010, they stirred some excitement in their opening game when they beat north African giants Tunisia 3-1 but lost their consequent matches — 0-2 against the hosts Angola and 1-3 against Mali.
Having had 3 points, Malawi needed a draw to reach their first-ever quarter-final qualification but after just three minutes into the game, they were down 0-2.
While in 1984, Flames have been greatly motivated that for every game won or drawn that will help the Flames qualify for their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) knockout stages, they will receive K1 million each.
On Monday, Zimbabwe were about to get a valuable point from top ranks Senegal, but a deep injury time penalty saw them finishing the game with nothing in hand.
Coach Norman Mapeza is quoted by CAFonline as saying: “We have been working on recovery after the last-minute loss to Senegal. We have a very good side, and we know our game against Malawi is a must win.
“I spoke to the players who were very emotional, and I am happy they have decided to forget the Senegal game. I am not going to make changes to my squad but will just emphasize on consistency and using our chances effectively.”
While his captain Alec Mudimu: “Our loss to Senegal was disappointing, but we have since recovered and decided to move on to the next game against Malawi which is a must win.
“The mood is camp is good and we are rearing to go as we work hard towards getting the three points and making our entire nation proud.”
It’s not too late for the Flames to earn a whopping K1 million bonus if they win both their remaining games and qualify for their first-ever knock out stages — an incentive which FAM dangled for them ahead of the matches.
But if they fail to reach the knockout stages, they shall get the normal bonus of K500,000 for a win and half for a draw, as it puts in place special incentive plan for the Flames ahead of their opening match against Guinea on Monday.
Further to that, once they will qualify into the quarterfinals and go on to the semis and the final, a bonus of 50% of the qualification bonus funds from Confederation of African Football (CAF) shall go towards the players with FAM retaining the balanced for operational costs of the team.
CAF Executive Committee increased the prize money from quarterfinals at US$1.175 million (an increase of US$175,000); semifinals at US$2.2 million (an increase of US$200,000); runners-up US$2.75 million (an increase of US$250,000) and the champions at US$5 million at an increase of US$500,000.
Thus FAM says if the Flames manage to reach the quarterfinals and continue to proceed to the semifinals and the final, the prize money shall be shared 50-50 between team and FAM.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :