Limping Malawi enters Indomitable Lions denThomas Kwenaite
A lot of people questioned the decision of Cameroon to take part in the 2019 African Nations Cup tournament that they would be hosting, but the Central African country’s football leaders has been very smart in entering their team even though they qualify automatically as hosts.
There has been a lot of uncertainty regarding whether they would be hosting the tournament next year with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) seemingly reluctant to officially declare that they would be hosting, instead hinting that “It is in Cameroon’s hands whether they want to host or would be unable to host.”
Nobody wants to officially admit it, but it is alleged that the reason why CAF is reluctant to endorse Cameroon is because they have already taken an unofficial decision to hand the hosting rights to Morocco, even though they would not admit it, at least for now.
It is for this reason that Cameroon has entered their team in the qualifiers so that if the hosting rights are taken away from them, the team would have qualified through the demanding programme anyway, unlike if they did not enter and when the axe falls, they would miss the opportunity to participate as the hosting rights would be taken away.
Although the defending champions got off to a promising start by beating Morocco 1-0, they stumbled somewhat when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Comoros, a result that shocked almost the entire continent as everybody expected them to beat the Islanders any day of the week and twice on a Sunday.
Preparations for their Friday tie against Namibia has not been ideal, with five players absent and only joining the rest of the squad on Tuesday for Friday’s match to be staged at the Omnisports Ahmadou Ahidio Stadium in Yaounde.
Following injuries to key players Clinton Njie of Marseille and FC Porto forward Vincent Aboubakar, Dutch coach Clarence Seedorf has been forced to alter his squad.
The France-based duo of Felix Eboa Eboa and Felix Bahoken are also unavailable, while Dimitri Oberlin has opted to stay with the Switzerland Under-21 side despite being called-up by Seedorf.
Oberlin’s rejection of the call-up followed soon after the coach had left out several senior players, ostensibly because he felt players plying their trades in Asia would not add any value to the national team. His comments angered former captain Benjamin Moukandjo who announced his retirement from international football.
But soon after Moukandjo’s retirement Seedorf included China-based striker Christian Bassagog in the squad that would play against Malawi.
“We follow all the players and we see a lot of talent out there. We try to bring in the best players for Cameroon,” Seedorf explained. “Not just best in terms of talent but those who are motivated and who know what it means to play for this nation.”
Malawi arrived in Yaoundé beset by problems. Flames coach Ronny van Geneugden said the absence of his captain Limbikani Mzava is a serious setback considering the value he adds to the team.
Mzava ruled himself out of the encounter last Sunday, just a day before the team’s departure for Yaoundé, citing a recurring knee injury as the reason why he elected to stay in South Africa with his club Lamontville Golden Arrows.
This development came after two other South African based players -midfielder Robert Ng’ambi and attacker Gerald Phiri Jnr – also ruled themselves out owing to injuries.
Two additional players – Robin Ngalande and Atusaye Nyondo – are also not part of the squad because they are currently unattached.
“Making the situation even more difficult is the timing because Mzava told the team manager (James Sangala) about his unavailability in the afternoon, but I hear he played a full game for his South African club – Golden Arrows,” he told The Nation newspaper.
“I guess there is very little we can do about it and we have since replaced him with Yamikani Fodya. We will have to keep faith in the players that are available who have shown a lot of patriotism. There has been good atmosphere and the remaining players are also motivated.”
On his part, Mzava said in the past three games, he has been relying on pain-killing injections to feature for his club.
“I am in pain and it’s getting worse. I cannot keep on relying on injections, I need ample time to fully recover and the coming Fifa break offers me that opportunity.
“I would have really loved to be part of the young hungry squad to face Cameroon, but I just can’t make it. Having said that, I wish the team all the best,” he said from his Durban base.
Malawi will host Cameroon in the return leg in Blantyre on Saturday.