The Flames of Malawi are looking to get their first win in a continental competition and that would be a bigger deal than you'd think.
AFCON Apperances: 1 (1984)
AFCON Titles: None
Nicknamed The Flames, the Malawi national team is hardly what someone could call an African heavyweight. The team formerly known as the Nyasaland flames have never managed to qualify for the World Cup finals and only made it once to the African Cup of Nations, in 1984.
Their record in the competition consists of two losses and a draw. So if they manage to win one game at the next African Cup of Nations in Angola, their competition would be considered a success or at least a step-up from previous performances.
Road To Qualification
Malawi were put in the Group 12 alongside Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Djibouti. Thanks to surprise wins against Egypt and the Congo DR, the Flames managed to finish second with twelve points, behind Egypt and three points ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo, getting to the second phase of the joint qualifiers as one of the eight second placed teams.
During the second phase, they were put in a very difficult group alongside Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea and Burkina-Faso. With a relatively bad record of only one win and one draw, it was only thanks to Guinea's series of catastrophic performances that they managed to get a ticket to Angola. If they started out talking big game, they ended up extremely happy of their third place, a historic event for the sport in their country.
National team manager Kinnah Phiri is an ex-Malawian football player, a member of the national team himself in the seventies and early eighties. Even if he never managed to bring the Flames to the African Cup of Nations as a player, he is closely associated with the "glory days" of the National team when Malawi won the East and Central Africa Challenge Cup twice.
Before taking the reigns of the Flames, Kinnah Phiri was a coach with the Bakili Bullets in Malawi and the Free State Stars in South Africa. He later went on to coach the Under-23 side of his country and ended up replacing Stephen Constantine when the British technician failed to qualify the side to the African Cup of Nations and subsequently resigned.
With a heavy baggage and a lot of weight in the country's game, Kinnah Phiri seems to be the man for the job if Malawi wants to get a bigger profile on the continental stage. With a rejuvenated team and a different outlook on his country, Phiri has been able to get great spirit from his players so far, even if they were often pit against far superior teams.
Chiukepo Msowoya is, alongside Russel Mwafulirwa and Esau Kanyenda the most high profile player the team has at the moment. The ESCOM United player, who played for only a few months with the Flames has had incredibly good results with them.
As a substitute, he managed to score six goals during the qualifying phases and is now looked at as a potential transfer for many European clubs and African heavyweights. A very young and talented player, the 21-year-old is a constant threat and has been much more efficient than his Flames team-mates. A bright future lays ahead for the kid.
The last time they played in this tournament was back in 1984 and they will be looking to do much better than just getting a draw like they did then. If they were to get to the second round, the Malawians would be more than happy with that result.
Malawi will be in the same group as the host nation, Angola. But also will have to face Mali and its superstars as well as World Cup side Algeria. If there is absolutely no chance for them to make it to the second round, Malawi could get a few inspiring performances out of this competition. Finishing third in such a hard group would be good for them. But then again, a victory would change their legacy already.
Did You Know?
One of the best players that could play for Malawi, Tamika Mkandawire may never play for the country. The Leyton Orient player holds dual citizenship thanks to a Malawian father and English mother but the country doesn't recognise dual citizenship and is preventing one of their best products ever (the man was elected Division One Player of the Year) to play with his father's country.