Flames drawn with Egypt, Guinea and Ethiopia in 2023 Côte d’Ivoire AFCON qualifiers

Malawi national football team have been drawn with the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) runners-up Egypt for the 2023 Côte d’Ivoire AFCON qualifiers together with Guinea — the team which beat them in the group stages of the January finals in Cameroun — as well as Ethiopia.

The draw for the qualifiers, that kick off in June, was conducted on Tuesday evening in South Africa in which 2021 champions Senegal have been pooled in Group L together with Benin, Rwanda and Confederation of African Football Associations (COSAFA) side, Mozambique.

Malawi national football team the Flames

Hosts Côte d’Ivoire are in Group H with COSAFA sides Zambia, Comoros and Lesotho in which only one team will qualify alongside the hosts.

Comoros, who were one of the surprise packages at the delayed 2021 showpiece in Cameroon, are seeking for a second consecutive qualification.

There will be several derbies as well with East African rivals Uganda and Tanzania drawn together again as they will face off in Group F together with Niger and 2019 champions Algeria.

Uganda and Tanzania faced off in the qualifiers for the 2019 showpiece where they drew 0-0 in the first leg in Kampala and Tanzania winning 3-0 in Dar es Salaam.

Tanzania also faced Algeria at the subsequent tournament in Egypt, where they suffered a 3-0 defeat.

While Egypt’s Mohamed Salah will fancy another battle against Liverpool teammate Naby Keita in the Flames’ Pool D.

The Flames were drawn against Guinea, Senegal and fellow COSAFA member Zimbabwe at the last finals in Cameroun in which they were beaten 0-1 by Guinea, beat Zimbabwe 2-1 and drew 0-0 with Senegal to qualify — for the first time ever in their third appearance — into the knockout stages.

They lost to Morocco in the Round of 16 in which they caused a stir when they scored first through Gabadinho Mhango.

As the qualifiers are set for June, Football Association of Malawi (FAM) have to identify the coach that should lead the Flames following a controversy the association is embroiled in after firing head coach Meck Mwase — preferring on Romanian Mario Marinica.

Marinica was initially appointed as technical director but in Cameroun, Meck was demoted to assistant coach — a move which surprised fans back home since the former Flames legend led the team to their third AFCON after Henry Moyo in 1986 in Côte d’Ivoire and Kinnah Phiri in Angola 2020.

Meck, the former Flames captain, was relieved of his duties during FAM’s 1st quarterly meeting at Sunbird Nkopola Lodge in Mangochi, and in its media release the association said Meck would be redeployed to the Malawi Government for the rest of his contract which expires in April next year.

However, Meck followed with a lawsuit, demanding K500 million as compensation for what he described as unconstitutional dismissal that borders on racial discrimination.

The hullabaloo was intervened by Malawi National Council of Sports, which issued a statement a few days later which stopped FAM from carrying out its decision, saying Meck was employed by government to specifically coach the Flames.

Though Meck steered the team to the AFCON but Marinica is credited for the team’s first-ever qualification into the knockout stages yet it was Meck who was in full charge for two games in which he lost to Guinea and beat Zimbabwe.

Meck was in charge of those two games after Marinica tested positive of CoVID-19 and had to observe quarantine protocols and when he took charge, he led the Flames to the draw against Senegal and went on to lose to Morocco in the Round of 16.

The 2023 qualifiers draw, conducted by African football legends — former South Africa defender Lucas Radebe and ex-Côte d’Ivoire forward Solomon Kalou — is as follows:

Group A 

Nigeria; Sierra Leone; Guinea-Bissau; São Tomé/Mauritius

Group B

Burkina Faso; Cabo-Verde; Togo; Eswatini

Group C

Cameroon; Kenya*; Namibia; Burundi

Group D

Egypt; Guinea; Malawi; Ethiopia

Group E

Ghana; Madagascar; Angola; Central African Republic

Group F

Algeria; Uganda; Niger; Tanzania

Group G

Mali; Congo; The Gambia; South Sudan

Group H

Côte d’Ivoire; Zambia; Comoros; Lesotho

Group I

DR Congo; Gabon; Mauritania; Sudan

Group J

Tunisia; Equatorial Guinea; Libya; Botswana

Group K

Morocco; South Africa; Zimbabwe*; Liberia

Group L

Senegal; Benin; Mozambique; Rwanda

Meanwhile, Kenya and Zimbabwe have been marked with a star (*) because despite having been suspended by world football governing body, FIFA from all football activities globally, have been included on condition they satisfy FIFA’s terms to be readmitted into the international football family — at least two weeks before the kick-off of the upcoming qualifying matches.

But in case the suspensions are not lifted two weeks before their first match day of the qualifiers, both associations will be considered as losers and eliminated from the competition.

Their groups will then be composed of 3 teams with the first and runners-up qualifying for the final tournament in Côte d’Ivoire.

Kenya and Zimbabwe were not be drawn in the same group in order to avoid having one group with only two teams in case the suspension on both associations is not lifted.

The suspension for Kenya was imposed after its government replaced the FA with a caretaker committee last November while Zimbabwe’s Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) took control of ZIFA with government accusing the federations of alleged mismanagement.—Additional information by CafOline

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