By Michael Kachitsa
Prayers answer at the opportune time, and in the word of the current Malawi Nation al Football team Technical director, Mario Mirinica, it is more fitting that while the nation of Malawi is going through such things as floods, its football team should relieve some of the tension. The team could not have done it at a grand platform than the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) Finals currently under way in Cameroon.
The team has made history by qualifying for the last 16 teams stage in which if they excel they will move on to the quarter finals of the trophy. Participation for this trophy which is the continental epitome of football in Africa for this year is only the third count in its existence of 65 years. They have been there in 2010 and before that for the first time in 1984, at both occasion being eliminated in the group stages though full of exciting play.
All the grand achievement significantly came as a result of their hard work in containing Senegal to a goalless draw on Tuesday though their opponents had world stars in goal keeper Edouard Mendy voted the 2021 World best just a day before the game and Sadio Mane the scoring machine for English premier club Liverpool just to mention two. The game was their last for group B preliminary round.
For the make and or break game, Malawi National Football team, ‘the Flames’ goal minder Charles Thom was named Man of the Match for his agility in preventing any ball entering his back net from such a formidable opponent as Senegal. Perhaps all in answer to consistent team prayers led by the Football Association of Malawi president, Walter Nyamilandu Manda.
The team played three group games amassing 4 points to be on third position in their group of four teams. They lost the first game narrowly to Guinea, won the second against neighbours Zimbabwe, 2 – 1 and drew 0 – 0 in the Senegal game. It was not clear who they will play against in the next round of 16 as we went to press.
According to the Cup of African Nations website, the tournament was originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021. 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.