On Wednesday, Malawi captain Joseph Kamwendo declared that his side have nothing to fear from Algeria, the highest-ranked side in Africa. The southern Africans, have started their campaign well, beating a tricky Ethiopian side in Blantyre 3-2, after falling to Mali in Bamako. Kamwendo’s optimism might seem misplaced to most, but Malawi are known to be one of the continent’s trickiest sides. Malawi have only lost one of their previous nine matches at home; and, in the process holding Nigeria to a 1-1 draw.
Off-the-pitch factors must not be overlooked when taking into account this fixture. An eight-hour flight to Lilongwe will take its physical toll on players, and the synthetic surface at the Flames’ spiritual home can throw off bigger teams, whose players are used to natural grass pitches. Weather conditions will also play their role as temperatures are expected to reach 34 degrees on Saturday.
The Algerian federation have sent scouts ahead of Saturday’s fixture and they have sent back scathing reports on the stadium’s decrepit condition and unsanitary dressing rooms. These factors will, of course, affect both sides, but the Algerians should have a harder time adapting.
In spite of said difficulties, El Khedra have perhaps arrogantly targeted six points from the Malawi double-header. Christian Gourcuff has brushed aside worries about the playing surface, pointing out that he used artificial turf at Lorient, and he knows what to expect. It also helps that most Algerian players are in great form with their clubs. Striker Islam Slimani has made the striker position his own at Sporting Club de Portugal, scoring 4 goals and providing 1 assist in 5 matches. Yacine Brahimi has been the subject of accolades all around Europe after a blistering start with Porto, which includes a Champions League hat-trick on his debut. Team talisman Sofiane Feghouli has also been productive scoring a goal and notching two assists in just two starts for Valencia, who are in fantastic form.
With such an attacking arsenal, the Algerians have the tools necessary to come away from Lilongwe with three points. Besides Kamwendo, the Algerian defence will be wary of Atusaye Nyando, who scored two goals against Ethiopia. His veteran strike partner Chiukepo Msowoya is also a danger having scored a team-high 12 goals in 43 caps.
Algeria XI: M’Bolhi – Mandi, Belkalem, Medjani, Ghoulam – Feghouli, Taïder, Lacen, Mahrez – Brahimi, Slimani
Malawi XI: Harawa – Mzava, Nyirenda, Malata, Mulimbika – Kamwendo, Ng’ambi, Kayira, Ngalande – Nyondo, Msowoya