Malawi claimed their first win of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers with a narrow 1-0 victory over COSAFA rivals Mozambique at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Tuesday, their goal coming in the most bizarre fashion.
The match was played in neutral Johannesburg after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) deemed Malawi’s home venue not fit for purpose, a similar fate that befell Namibia last week when they hosted Congo at the famous South African venue.
The victory is a first for Malawi over Mozambique since 2009 and is some sweet revenge for a 2-0 loss to the Mambas in the 2021 COSAFA Cup that was played in Nelson Mandela Bay in July.
The only goal of the game on Tuesday was scored by Malawi striker Richard Mbulu, who plays in South Africa at Baroka FC, and he is unlikely to ever have an easier strike in his international career.
With 10 minutes on the clock, there was a wild back-pass by Mozambique from all of 40 yards that left goalkeeper Ernan Siluane in a difficult situation.
Unable to handle the ball without conceding a free-kick, he instead tried to clear it with his boot, but succeeded only in firing it against the post as he fell over the byline.
That left Mbulu, who had shown good awareness to race into the box, with the simplest of headers into an empty net with no Mozambique player in sight.
Malawi had the better of a cagey opening period, but Mozambique came out guns blazing in the second half.
That being said, the best chances still fell to the ‘home’ side, as Gerald Phiri Jnr saw his rasping shot from the edge of the box go just wide of the post.
Gabadinho Mhango, who plays his club football at the Orlando Stadium with local side Orlando Pirates, then went on a rampaging run into the box in which he beat two defenders before forcing an excellent finger-tip save from substitute goalkeeper Victor Guambe, who had replaced the unfortunate Siluane at halftime.
Both teams had half-chances after that to win the game, but Malawi were able to hold on for what could be a precious victory for them.
They move to three points from two games, one behind pool leaders Ivory Coast and level with Cameroon. Mozambique stay on one point but are still very much in the race.
Malawi now play back-to-back home and away qualifiers against the Ivorians in October, while Mozambique do likewise against Cameroon.
Malawi lost their pool opener 2-0 in Cameroon on Friday, while Mozambique played to a goalless draw with Ivory Coast in Maputo.
With only the top team in each pool advancing to the final stage of qualifying in March, there is little margin for error for both sides.
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