Having been beaten 0-1 by Guinea in the opener and beating Zimbabwe 2-1 before salvaging a 0-0 against Senegal on Tuesday, head-to-head rules Guinea as Group B runners-up — leaving Malawi to be considered as best third-placed team to qualify for their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) quarterfinal qualification.
The Flames put up a gallant fight against a star-studded Senegal — the number one ranked team in Africa — that saw the southern Africans being denied a penalty and a possible free kick just outside the penalty box in the 73rd minute after VAR ruled that the push foul on Gomezgani Chirwa, as he tried to dash into the box, was judged as a simulation.
The Flames had the consolation that Silver Strikers’ 22-year-old goalkeeper Charles Thomu was voted as Man of the Match for his brilliant saves that earned his side to claim a well-deserved draw that might help propel the Flames to the quarterfinals as the best third-placed.
Guinea drew 0-0 with Senegal in their second match after beating Malawi but lost 1-2 to Zimbabwe in the other Group B encounter to garner 4 points and their 1-0 win against a positive CoVID-19 depleted Flames makes them runners-up as automatic qualifiers for the quarterfinals.
Silver Strikers’ Thomu started in goals, replacing Ernest Kakhobwe — who was down with malaria — as he played the best game of his life. Head coach Mario Marian Marinica fielded Stanley Sanudi, Lawrence Chaziya, Dennis Chembezi, Gomezgani Chirwa, Chimwemwe Idana, John Banda as captain, Micium Mhone, Khuda Muyaba, Gabadinho Mhango and Francisco Madinga.
Senegal featured an all-foreign based squad of Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, England), Saliou Ciss (Nancy-Lorraine, France), Kalidou Koulibaly (Naples, France), Idrissa Gueye (PSG, France), Cheikhou Kouyate (Crystal Palace, England), Boulaye Dia (Villarreal, Spain), Sadio Mane (Liverpool, England), Mouhamadou Diallo (RC Strasbourg, France), Bouna Sarr (Bayern Munich, Germany) and Abdou Diallo (PSG).
Senegal, who are losing finalists at the last AFCON 2019 against Algeria and needing to win to strongly enhance their quarterfinal qualification, started strongly — controlling ball possession and trying to keep the dangerous Flames at bay.
They had Gaba — scorer of two goals against Zimbabwe — under close radar that every time he had the ball, three defenders were on him to hustle in whatever means, that earned Crystal Palace’s Cheikhou Kouyate a yellow card on a foul on the Kaizer Chiefs forward.
In the 10th minute, Gaba controlled the ball in the box, twisted and turned but his shot was blocked by an alert Koulibaly.
Muyaba’s fierce shot in the 16th minute from outside the box kept rising but was so close that the Chelsea goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy — voted as best goal minder by FIFA — flew high with his hand to tip it over in case it was to be on target.
In the 30th minute, Gaba took a fierce free kick but it ricocheted off the Senegalese wall for corner. The Flames played short corners as they were faced against taller defenders.
Seven minutes later, Gaba raced through into the box but took too long to unleash a shot as he found himself once more mobbed by three defenders who dispossessed him.
A minute later Gomezgani Chirwa burst through the left flank but his shot was tipped away for a corner by Edouard Mendy, who was also on call to tame Muyaba’s header.
Senegal kept missing some chances coming their way in the second half most of them through Thomu’s sharp reflex saves as the youngster’s confidence grew.
The denied penalty in the 73rd was first blown as a penalty by the ref and as the Senegalese protested, he decided to verify through the VAR and he ruled it as simulation and gave a free ball to goalkeeper Mendy.
Both teams made substitutions. The Flames brought in Yamikani Chester and Richard Mbulu in the 66th minute for Mhone and Muayaba and Gerald Phiri Jnr. and Robin Ngalande for Madinga and Idana in the 78th.
The west Africans were dangerous on counterattacks but their last touch was not effective and where they were on target Thomu was on call to make the brilliant saves that earned the youngster Man of the Match award — the second for Malawi after Gaba, who earned it for his brilliance and the brace in the 2-1 win over Zimbabwe.
Thomu was quoted by CAFonline as saying he was very proud to earn the Man of the Match award playing against an experienced side like Senegal.
“However, I want to thank my team mates for the beautiful game. We played collectively that enabled me to collect this prestigious award. We worked extra hard as a team and going forward it feels so sweet.”
Coach Marinica said: “It’s a tremendous achievement for Malawi to be able to get four points as we have been adapting a different system and the players managed to adapt and now we are on cloud nine.
“We played for the entire Malawi nation as the country has been experiencing problems like flooding and the good performance has given them a new spirit and encouragement.
“We have achieved our mission in the tournament despite myself and other players having suffered from Covid the team has been strong as we implemented our strategy against our tough opponents.”
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse acknowledged that the Flames gave his side a good challenge though they failed to utilise their chances.
“We have lacked efficiency at the front but we want to ensure we have a different strategy going into the next round of matches as we hope for more goals.
“I said from the word go that we should be humble as a team and even though many people expect us to win by big margins we have played formidable teams and the most important fact is that we have qualified as the top team in the group.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :