Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The love between Malawi and North African soccer giants

Malawi is a lucky kid; but one who often bumps into trouble by almost always bumping into North African opponents during Confederation of African Football (CAF) draws.
It happened in 2008, when the Malawi National Football Soccer team, aka Flames, bumped into football unluck again, upon being drawn against the then African champions Tunisia.
Supporters of Tunisia jubilated at being drawn against so soft an opponent. In Malawi, people quaked in their boots, the dark gods were here once again- haunting Malawi football.
Well, the Tunisians got more than they bid for. In Blantyre, at the giant Kamuzu Stadium, Malawi were leading Tunisia 2-0 by half time. That young, nimble-footed talented Joseph Kamwendo was a wonder to behold, as usual, turning the Tunisian defence inside out.
The Tunisians were lucky, though, because less than ten minutes from regulation time they got a penalty after defender Allan Kamanga tripped one of their own in the penalty box. Kamanga thought the referee had something against him, so he complained until the ref could take it no longer and gave him a red card.
The Tunisians took the penalty , but- don’t ever think the goal is in yet!- goalkeeper Swadick Sanudi saved it. The score board (though Kamuzu Stadium has none now, though the adverts on it remain as if someone would be so foolish as to look that side and read the dead score lines) remained the same- 2-0.
But Malawi were one man less, so the North Africans were bound to score anyway. Something they did before long, after three minutes of missing the penalty. They also struck misfortune again, at the dot of full time.
The match ended 2-2 and I could not help sitting down on the Eastern terraces, perturbed, angry and beating my chest.
If only we could defend to the last minute…………if only Kamanga hadn’t tempered with the referee….if only- you know what happens. Hallucinations and daytime dreams.
But, in that pain, something was cemented like a concrete stone- friendship.
The Tunisians offered to host the flames as they prepared for other opponents, right there in Tunisia.
It has become a habit, it seems, for Malawi to be drawn against North African sides, or else it is a CAF conspiracy!
In the campaign for Angola next year, we got in the way of Egypt the African champions and bit them Chiukepo Msowoya’s last minute thunderbolt that left the Egyptians more
angry than hungry.
In Cairo, Egypt, they beat us 2-0. Again, friendship was there for the taking.
Today, Saturday, Malawi have left for Egypt to play an all-paid-for friendly with the Pharaohs.
The Egyptians are Malawi’s best friend.
From there, the Flames will be preparing for a match on December 29 against Togo in Blantyre, Malawi. After which, the Flames will line up against Ghana on January 2, 2010 (oh, now we have started talking of 2010; how days die) in Swaziland.
Flames coach, Kinnah Phiri, is happy with the gesture of the North Africans.
“We owe part of our qualification to Angola to these North African teams. They are so good to us; they remember us. They have been an integral part of our dream- the dream to Angola inclusive,” said Phiri.
In Angola, Malawi has been drawn in the same group as Mali, hosts Angola and North Africans Algeria.
Ironically, Algeria beat Egypt under temperamental circumstances- making it more likely that Egyptians will rally behind Malawi when they line up against Algeria.
Will Algeria and Malawi, like Egypt and Morocco, fall in love? That is the big question hanging over Malawi’s qualification to Angola, 25 years down the line.
It has been a long, long journey.

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