It was the usual song of so near, yet so far; when it mattered most the Flames squandered a golden opportunity to qualify for their first-ever back to back appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) when they were held to a pathetic 0-0 draw against Ethiopia side on Tuesday.
Egypt had opened the chance for Malawi by beating Guinea earlier in the rounds of the qualifiers, which meant the Flames needed to beat both Ethiopia and Guinea to qualifiers as runners-up.
But the draw has now helped Guinea qualify for Cote d’Ivoire 2023 finals from Group D alongside Egypt.
Played at Zimpeto Stadium in Maputo, Mozambique — which was neutral venue for the Ethiopians after Confederation of African Football (CAF) had sanctioned their stadia as unfit for international matches, the Flames struggled to keep ball possession while their opponents were wary of any defensive lapse as they seemed to be at ease.
If the Flames had won it would have kept their dreams of qualification alive by setting what would have been a thrilling final-like showdown against Guinea on the last day of qualifying.
But the draw meant Guinea, who have 9 points secured their spot in the Cote d’Ivoire 2023 finals without even stepping onto the pitch and join, Egypt who had already secured their place by beating the Syli National to amass an unassailable 12 points.
A report by CAFonline says the Flames started the match with determination, creating several scoring opportunities against the already eliminated Ethiopian side — but their efforts were repeatedly thwarted by a resolute Ethiopian defence.
Despite dominating possession and launching relentless attacks, Malawi struggled to find the breakthrough they desperately needed — forcing coach Patrick Mabedi to make tactical changes at halftime in hoping to inject fresh attacking impetus.
Coach Mabedi is quoted by Fam.mw as saying the team did not play according to plan, adding: “We started on a wrong foot and we were rushing things. We were supposed to be a little bit patient on the ball. But we lost it and gave away possession cheaply.
“We sat back a lot and didn’t take the game to them. We were the ones that needed this match most but we stayed deep too much. This was an easy game but we made life difficult for ourselves.
“But this is over, we now have to look at the future and continue with the project we have started of rebuilding the team,” Mabedi is quoted as saying.
Being on the ground at at Zimpeto Stadium, Fam.mw reports that despite not finding the back of the net Malawi had more chances than Ethiopia as in the 11th minute Chawanangwa Kaonga got the Flames first chance when he beat his marker on the right after being set by Chimwemwe Idana but his shot was saved by keeper Seid Habtamu for a corner kick.
Eight minutes later Yamikani Chester made a good run towards Ethiopia goal and was brought down outside the 18-yard box for a free kick. He took the set piece setting Alick Lungu whose shot went over the bar.
Malawi got another chance in the 24th minute after Richard Mbulu won a corner kick which Lungu perfectly delivered to find Dennis Chembezi whose header went slightly over the bar.
In the first half added time defender Nixon Mwase almost handed the Flames the lead but his header was cleared by Habtamu.
Mabedi made the two half time changes bringing in Chikumbutso Salima and Gaddi Chirwa for Chester and Kawonga, before bringing in Chifundo Mphasa for Mbulu 10 minutes later and throwing in Lloyd Njaliwa for Idana with seven minutes to go but it all came nought at full time.
Mabedi line up was Brighton Munthali in goals; Stanley Sanudi, Dennis Chembezi, Nickson Mwase, Alick Lungu in defence; John Banda (c), Yamikani Chester (Chikumbutso Salima 45′), Chimwemwe Idana (Lloyd Njaliwa 83′) in midfield; and forwards Lanjesi Nkhoma, Chawanangwa Kawonga (Gaddi Chirwa 45′) and Richard Mbulu (Chifundo Mphasa 54′).
Other substitutes were: Innocent Nyasulu, Lawrence Chaziya, Daniel Chimbalanga, Blessings Mpokera, Patrick Macheso, Lloyd Aaron, Robert Saizi and Chifundo Mphasi.