Ahead of the do-or-die last Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group B against Senegal this evening from 17:00hrs (CAT), Flames midfielder John Banda gives Malawians confidence that despite the west African being touted as favourites to carry the day, they are set to make a major upset.
“Senegal look good on paper, but they have to know our game against them will be the biggest game of our lives,” he said at a pre-match press conference published on CAFonline.
“We believe we can beat them even though they are the favourites. We are motivated by surprises in the tournament, and we believe this is our golden opportunity every Malawian is waiting for.
“It is a fact, Senegal has big stars, but our game plan is to surprise them and qualify. It may look like a huge task, but we are ready for the challenge ahead,” he said.
The Flames lost 0-1 in the group qualifying opening match but went on to beat fellow Confederation of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) Zimbabwe 2-1 — coming from behind.
Following the win that earned them the vital 3 points, the Flames need to beat Senegal, who have four points having beaten Zimbabwe 1-0 and drew with Guinea 0-0.
If Guinea beat Zimbabwe they will top Group B with 7 points, making the Flames as runners-up if they win against Senegal.
If Zimbabwe beat Guinea, the Flames shall top the group — leaving the second slot to be decided by Senegal and Guinea on goal difference.
A point might also be enough for Malawi to record a historical place in the second round for the first time in their history since the tournament has six groups, the last four slots will be filled by third best placed teams.
At the pre-match press conference, John Banda was accompanied by coach Meck Mwase, who said there have been a couple of surprises so far in the tournament and warned Senegal that they “must be prepared as it will not be a smooth ride”.
“This gives us motivation to even work harder. I told my players they have got an opportunity to make history.
“We want to finish the group stage on a winning note even though we know our opponents are tough.
“We only have one player missing and that is our captain, but we have equally good players that can replace him as we fight to qualify.”
Senegal, who reached the final of the last AFCON in Egypt three years ago, are well fancied to beat the Flames as they have a star-studded squad that includes Liverpool player Sadio Mane.
Their coach is quoted by CAFonline as saying they have the confidence to sail through “but it’s important to respect Malawi”.
“We are happy that all our players are available which gives us more options. All Senegalese are watching us and it’s our role to give them hope by winning.
“Our ambitions are intact. We are playing against a motivated side that want to go for a special win.”
Cisse was accompanied by his defender Abdou Diallo, who is quoted as saying: “We have to acknowledge we are equally motivated like our opponents as we are taking the game with all the seriousness it deserves.
“As players we know the importance of this game. We have vowed to go all out for a win in what should be an exciting encounter.
“The coach has helped us work on our past mistakes. Having all our players back in the team gives us motivation to face challenges.”
Aliou Cisse will be hoping to see a much more potency in attack after drawing blanks in their match against Guinea.
The Teranga Lions have not scored a goal in open play so far in the tournament and will look to set the records straight when they face Malawi.
A late Sadio Mane penalty in stoppage time ensured victory over Zimbabwe, before Senegal managed only a draw in their second game against Guinea.
The Flames were firing on all cylinders in their 2-1 win over Zimbabwe in which Gabadinho Mhango scored a brace that earned him the Man of the Match award.
The two goals also earned Gaba as the first Malawi player to score a brace at the AFCON and if he scores against Senegal, he will become Malawi’s top goal-scorer in their history in the competition.
After becoming the first-ever Malawi player to score a brace at the Africa Cup of Nations, Gaba could be the first Malawi player to score in consecutive AFCON appearances since Russell Mwafulirwa in 2010, while one more goal would make him Malawi’s top goal-scorer in their history in the competition.
This will be the first encounter between Malawi and Senegal at the AFCON finals. Each of the last three teams facing Senegal for the first time at the AFCON have suffered defeats — Tanzania, Uganda and Benin — all losing against them in 2019.
The Flames have lost their third game in the group stage on each of their previous two appearances — losing 0-1 to Ghana in 1984 and Mali 1-3 in 2010.
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.
The Flames have been greatly motivated that for every game won or drawn that will help the Flames qualify for their first-ever AFCON knockout stages, they will receive K1 million each.
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); semi-finals 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.
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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :