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Flames Impresses on AFCON Opener

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By Michael Kachitsa

The African Cup of Nations (2021 or 2022) kicked off last Sunday in Cameroon with the final game to determine the winners planned for the 6th February 2022. Apart from the mesmerizing dress, apparels, drums and melodious music, it is the most exciting event on world football stage.

Billed as the TotalEnergies 2021 Africa Cup of Nations for sponsorship reasons, is the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, the biennial international men’s football championship of Africa organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

The Malawi National Football team, nicknamed the ‘Flames,’ is at this tournament only for the third time in their history following their 1964 and 2010 showing. They opened their account for this continental showcase on Monday, 10th January 2022 in Group B against Guinea which they lost narrowly 1 – 0.

Flames created more chance but lacked precision in front of goal. Most of the players fit for the match were midfielders. Suspected Covid-19 positive results meant notable senior players namely; Stanley Sanudi, Robin Ngalande, Chikoti Chirwa, Charles Petro and striker Frank ‘Gabadinho’ Mhango were not available to play. The isolation included head of technical panel Mario Marian Marinica leaving Assistant coach Meck Mwase taking full charge.

Malawi were left to make do with only four players on the bench, Richard Mbulu and Zebron Kalima and goalkeepers Charles Thom and William Thole.

In all fairness, the Flames dominated the game but Guinea were more clinical because of their bank of experience within their charges led by English Premier Liverpool’s Nabi Keita. You could see their maturity though they lacked lethalness. Malawi showed their freshness in such a tournament as they missed clear open goal chances on more than three occasions in the game.

Despite everything, the match ended in Guinea winning 1 – 0 which puts them on first spot in the group followed by Senegal also with three points and similar goal stats having won against Zimbabwe. Malawi’s next do or die group game is on Friday 18th January against Zimbabwe.

According to the Cup of African Nations website, the tournament was originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021 but the CAF announced its postponement on 15 January 2020. However, due to unfavourable climatic conditions during that period, it was rescheduled to occur between 9 January and 6 February 2021. On 30 June 2020, the CAF moved the tournament for the second time to January 2022 following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the continent, whilst retaining the name 2021 Africa Cup of Nations for sponsorship purposes.

It has a total of 24 teams competing in the final tournament. Only the hosts received an automatic qualification spot, with the other 23 teams qualified through a qualification tournament.

The 24 national teams are drawn into six groups of four teams. The teams in each group play a single round robin with the top two teams from each group and the four highest ranked third-placed teams advancing to the round of 16. The round of 16 winners will advance to the quarter-finals and the quarter-final winners advances to the semi-finals. The semi-final losers will play in a third place match, while the semi-final winners will contest the final to be the 2021 cup winners.

Algeria (two-time winners) are the defending champions, having won the 2019 edition