Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter
THE Flames of Malawi are bullish they have a good chance of qualifying for the 2017 Nations Cup finals after being thrown into a group which features the Warriors, whom they host in the first game in June.
Fate has turned back the hands of time and handed the two Southern African countries an identical duel to the one they had in Blantyre on October 7, 2006, when a solitary strike by Moses Chavula powered the Flames to a 1-0 win in a 2008 Nations Cup qualifier.
Charles Mhlauri was in charge of those Warriors but was replaced, for the final game of the qualifiers, by Norman Mapeza, who inspired the team to a 3-1 win over the Flames in a dead rubber at Barbourfields.
Both nations found themselves being overshadowed by Morocco, who won the sole ticket to the 2008 Nations Cup finals, after pocketing four points from the Warriors and six points from the Flames.
Nine years later, Malawi and Zimbabwe, will clash again an opening game of a Nations Cup qualifier on the weekend of July 12-14.
The Warriors’ next game will be a home tie against Guinea, their bogey side, whom they failed to beat in back-to-back 2014 World Cup qualifiers, losing both matches.
Guinea, ranked 41st on the globe and seventh in Africa, are the top-ranked team in the group with Malawi the second best ranked team while the Warriors and Swaziland are ranked outside the top 100 on the FIFA rankings.
Flames coach Young Chimodzi and skipper Joseph Kamwendo believe they have a good chance of making it to their third Nations Cup finals.
“Nowadays there is nothing like an easy group, but we could not have asked for a better draw than this one,” Chimodzi, a former Malawi football star, told The Nation newspaper in Malawi.
“I think it is fair and it is now up to us to do the job. However, having said that, it will depend on several factors such as preparations and approach.
“I really can’t say which one (team) is tough and which one is easy, suffice to say we need to exercise a lot of caution.
“I am not saying it’s going to be easy because football has vastly improved. No team is a minnow anymore but, luckily, looking at the group on paper, I want to say it’s a fair one.”
Former CAPS United midfielder and Flames skipper Kamwendo said their destiny was in their hands.
“I think it is a fair draw. All the three opponents are within our rank and it will be up to us to deliver but, maybe, I should take this opportunity to appeal to authorities that this is the right time to start preparing if we are really serious about qualifying this time around.”
Meanwhile, ZIFA have insisted that their president Cuthbert Dube’s absence from international and domestic football matches does not translate to the insinuations, being spread by the media, that he does not love football.
Dube, who returned from the CAF Congress on Wednesday afternoon, was heavily criticised after he missed the Young Warriors’ home tie against Cameroon three weeks ago at Rufaro.
“The article in the newspaper insinuates that the president does not care about that which he is the leader of, which makes little sense, since he is working round the clock to make sure that our national teams fulfil all international matches just like the one played by the Young Warriors against Cameroon,” ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze said in a statement published on their official website.
“It is disheartening to know that people always try to find faults while they make no attempt at all to acknowledge the successes ZIFA pulls out despite operating in a challenging environment where expected benefactors of football, the Government and the corporate world, are financially constrained.
“The time and financial resources he has invested in football over the years is clear testimony of what we can say is Dr Dube’s unquestionable love for the progress and development of Zimbabwean football.
“He is the president of the football association, a position which he undertook knowing fully well what it entails hence he understands what is expected of him by the football family but as a business person he has other pressing commitments stopping him from attending football matches.
“What we will, however, strive to guarantee is the subscription of all national teams to all competitions so that at the end of the day we have international football matches to attend.”