Election day in Malawi allowed a brief respite from furious preparations for the Flames as they seek a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Coach Kinnah Phiri and his players went off to the election booths on Tuesday before returning to residential camp in preparation for their two Group E qualifiers next month. They host Burkina Faso in Blantyre on 6 June and then travel away to Conakry to take on Guinea on 21 June.
"It's been going well, we've started training on a high note and we are now halfway into preparing for the two days," Phiri told FIFA.com. "All our players will be together from Wednesday when the last of the players come in from outside of the country. Our next game is at home so we are working furiously towards making sure we get a win."
Malawi were on the receiving end of a five-goal defeat in Abidjan in March, losing to a rampant Côte d'Ivoire in a match overshadowed by the death of 19 spectators at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium.
However, Phiri feels his side can still qualify for the 2010 finals in South Africa, where he coached at club level until last year. "We are still left with five matches so we believe we can still gain a place at the World Cup finals," he said. "We haven't lost anything yet in the race and our task now is to try and revive our hopes."
Only the group winner qualifies for the 2010 finals but three out of the four teams in the section go to the 2010 CAF African Cup of Nations in Angola in January. It offers the temptation to set sights lower and partly focus on the top-three finish that would ensure Cup of Nations participation, something which Malawi have not achieved for more than a quarter-century.
Sights set high
The only previous occasion on which the Flames made it to the continental championship was in 1984, just after Phiri's own glorious career as one of the heroes of Malawian football had come to an end. However, the 54-year-old boss is not prepared to consider any other option but qualification for the 2010 world finals.
Reviving Malawi's hopes depends on a home win against the Burkinabe in early June. "The crowd will be a major force for us. We use our fans so much because the support of the people in Malawi is tremendous. People come out in big numbers to cheer us on and it's something that gives us a lot of hope when we play," Phiri explained.
"We have not lost a single home game since I took over," he added, pointing to wins in last year's qualifiers against the likes of reigning African champions Egypt and the powerful Congo DR, who Malawi knocked out of the first phase of the African preliminaries for South Africa 2010.
"It will be a big boost for us if we beat Burkina Faso and then we can go with real hope to our next match against Guinea," the coach concluded. "I think Guinea could be in some trouble because they have already lost their opening match and next they play against the Ivorians, who are a powerful team."