Deep analysis needed beyond flaws of Mario Marinica

Peter Banda

Knives are out on coach Mario Marinica with his critics who have always had issues with his Fast and Very Fast Football they say is uninspiring now vindicated following the Flames’ Cosafa Cup showing that has followed a very familiar script of underperformance.

The Flames should be back home by Monday after losing 2-1 to Lesotho and surrendering a one-goal lead to settle for a one-all draw with Eswatini in Group B meetings. A formality against lously Mauritius await the Flames on Sunday.

Right on the onset at Cosafa Cup, the critics had issues with Marinica’s selection of a midfield that on paper and on the pitch lacked width with defensive Chimwemwe Idana, John Banda and Chikoti Chirwa starting when live wires such as Peter Banda were on the bench.

Chirwa made a mess of his rare start, misplacing passes with reckless abandon whereas Idana was guilty of wastage after finding some three scoring opportunities which he spurned. John Banda was not even at his best; he did not dictate the tempo of the game as expected.

Upfront, there were no particular issues with the choice of Khuda Muyaba, Gabadinho Mhango and Stein Davie to form a three-pronged attack, but rather Marinica’s deployment of the attacking personnel.

Stein struggled with the demands of playing as a number nine. He could not drop deep, hold up play and make things happen for Gabadinho with the AmaZulu star fighting alone while isolated wide on the left.

Muyaba too operated too far away on the right and struggled to cross the ball as expected.

Surely, Peter Banda should have started on the wings and when he was introduced, he was vindicated when he created the Flames consolation which substitute Chiukepo Msowoya flicked into the net from the near-post.

At the back, Marinica had more surprises, with Blessings Mpokera and Sankhani Mkandawire forming a central defensive partnership and Ernest Kakhobwe restored to the posts in view of the injury of Charles Thom.

When the game started, Mpokera looked out of depth, his poor clearance of an equally poor save from Kakhobwe contributed to Lesotho’s first goal which we are all happy to blame on the unpopular Mkandawire.

First Kakhobwe wanted to make a save and dropped the ball but then made a fundamental basic goalkeeping error of failing to make a recovery save while seated seemingly forever.

To save the situation, Mpokera made a half-hearted clearance and the ball was deflected on the body of Mkandawire who had tried to block it from crossing the goal-line.

Mkandawire shares a portion of blame for facing towards his own goal instead of forward to avoid the calamity that befell him.

In short, Mpokera, senior players Kakhobwe and Mkandawire gifted Lesotho a goal even when the opponents had created literally nothing until that moment.

In the second half, experienced Stanley Sanudi cleared the air instead of the ball thereby once again gifting Lesotho the second goal. Yet another experienced defender made a mistake.

Could have Marinica done better with his squad selection in the absence of regulars—first-choice keeper Thom, defenders Gomezgani Chirwa, Denis Chembezi and Lawrence Chaziya?

I think he did not have many options in defence and the school boy defensive errors reflected lack of harmony which you would expect when four people are playing for the first time together.  In the entire backline, only right-back Sanudi features regularly for the Flames.

The injuries and start-stop nature of the Flames disjointed training contributed to the lousy performance.

Obviously, Marinica could have done better with his midfield selection and deployment of his front-three. Surely, asking Khuda to operate as a winger was underutilizing resources considering that Davie is still learning at this stage.

By the way, Khuda used to ‘cry’ that he was a better striker and that the Flames played cricket and not football? Well, he has been given all the games and time to play? How many goals has he scored for the Flames? Over 20 games and not even five goals!

Upfront, the Flames are suffering due to overdependence on Gabadinho for goals and when he is marked out, it becomes a tall order.

In the second game against Eswatini, Marinica got his selection right with Peter Banda on the left wing and Micium Mhone on the right. Peter Banda impressed with his footwork, passes, twists and turns.

But beyond the thrills of entertainment that Peter Banda offers, you have to ask yourself as to how many assists and goals does he contribute to the Flames?

He is yet to score and his assists are not even five. How many goals and assists did he register at Simba in the just-ended season? Are we surprised he is usually on the bench?

Peter Banda is a huge talent but if he is to be a Flames regular, he must tick the goals and assists’ boxes because we know he cannot contribute anything to defending.

Against Eswatini the defence looked stable with Paul Ndhlovu starting ahead of Mkandawire but this time around finishing, poor decision making and that decisive pass lacked in the final third with everything hurried.

Marinica, just like other coaches before him, shoulders the blame for the poor performance of the Flames in Durban because the buck stops at him.

The last time the Flames came closer to winning the Cosafa Cup was in 2002 and 2003 when Malawi reached the final, preparations were solid with the team having camped in England.

What few critics are interested in knowing is that the Flames faced Lesotho and Ethiopia minus five regular players and yet the opponents maintained the very same squads they deployed in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers.

Additionally, you have to ask why even with Kinnah Phiri at the helm, the Flames squad of Robert Ng’ambi, Peter Mponda, Swadick Sanudi, Moses Chavula and Joseph Kamwendo, could not win the Cosafa Cup.

Do we remember how Marinica’s predecessor Meck Mwase performed at the last edition of the Cosafa Cup held in South Africa?  How about Ronny van Geneugden, Ernest Mtawali, Young Chimodzi, Stephen Constantine and Bukhard Ziese?

These are not the issues and questions that will be asked post-Cosafa Cup because the cheap and obvious target is Marinica, his unpopular football style and the manner in which he grabbed Mwase’s job. All the past is laced in glory.

It is all laced in emotions. A more sober analysis is needed to understand what it takes to prepare for tournament football. Unfortunately, Malawi football has no room for a deep analysis of issues. It all starts and stops at the coach.