Gaba dedicates Man of the Match award to rest of the Flames as he steers Flames closer to knockout stages

Gabadinho Mhango showed how the Flames missed his services in the 0-1 loss against Guinea by playing the game of his life in which he scored two brilliant goals to beat Zimbabwe 2-0 and steer the team closer to their first-ever knock out stages.

The Flames came from a goal down to claim a deserved win to pick 3 points and they need to beat Senegal in the last group match while at the same time praying that Guinea — who earlier drew 0-0 with Senegal — should beat Zimbabwe.

Senegal and Guinea share 4 points apiece — both with one goal each — and if Malawi beat Senegal in the last group qualifier on Tuesday they will garner six points.

Man of the match – Malawi’s goal scoring machine Gaba Mhango

If Guinea would beat Zimbabwe, the west Africans will earn seven points and if they draw it would be 5 — which would leave the Flames and Guinea qualifying for the quarterfinals.

If the Flames would beat Senegal and Zimbabwe triumph over Guinea, the fate of the two west Africans would be decided by goal difference.

The Flames played a game of their life against their fellow Confederation of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) but it was the Warriors who hit first in the 35th minute

though a powerful header from Ishmael Wadi from a pin point cross by Onismor Bhasera.

But the conceded goal seemed to have galvanized the Flames, whose reaction to Zimbabwe’s goal was not of despair but they encouraged each other that all was not lost.

And true to it, the Flames capitalized on a blunder by the Zimbabwe midfield in which Francisco Madinga received the resultant pass, who raced on the left flank and floated a beautiful cross into the box that reached Gaba at the near post to slot it past the goalkeeper for the equalizer.

The two goals were both spectacular as the two teams went for recess from where the two continued with their bustling performance but it was the Flames who had the upper hand in the first minutes of the second half.

Madinga, whom match commentators had touted as the probable man of the match as he was almost everywhere — in attack; defending as well as in accurate passing of the ball — breezed into the box from the left 4 minutes into the second stanza but his shot creased the corner of the far upright.

Then in the 57th minute, Gaba chanced on the ball, lobbed it forward for a possible pass but continued to chase it and got on top of a chasing defender to beat goalkeeper on one-on-one for the all-important winner.

Five minutes later, Gaba was in for a possible hat-trick but the angle didn’t suit his attempt as it went high up.

The technical team of head coach Meck Mwase and expatriate Mario Marian Marinica made worthy changes in the 65th minute to kill the tempo of the game by pulling out Peter Banda and Khuda Muyaba for Richard Mbulu and Yamikani Chester respectively.

In the 82nd minute, they pulled out Chimwemwe Idana and Madinga for Petro John Charles Petro in a bid to have fresh legs and bury the game — both changes proving tactically excellent as the Flames jealously guarded their lead as the Warriors tried to salvage a draw.

Malawi were also forced into making an early change in the 24th minute bringing on Lawrence Chaziya to replace Limbikani Mzava who sustained an injury.

Satisfied with the draw, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse told CAFonline that they have now gone back to their drawing board to work how they shall ensure they get three points off Malawi.

“We came back stronger in the second half [against Guinea] unlike the first half where we were not perfect. Guinea played a perfect game and we have to commend them.

“The competition has good teams and even though many people expect us to win all games our ambitions remain the same and we want to build from the draw.”

This was the most anticipated top of the table clash in Group B, a west African derby that had Liverpool teammates Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Naby Keita (Guinea) playing on opposite ends and  both captaining their respective teams.

A win for each could have sent them into the Round of 16 having won their opening Group Matches with similar 1-0 scorelines.

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