Malawi racked up their most famous result ever - a 3-0 hammering of FIFA World Cup-bound Algeria - in their debut match at January’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations, and that memorable performance was enough to launch the Flames up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

It was the shock result of the tournament, and it marked an auspicious start for the side not used to a seat at the table with Africa’s elite national teams. Defeats to Angola and Mali meant Malawi finished the group in last place, but the Algeria result has come as a major fillip to the central African country, who are already talking of their serious ambitions of qualifying directly for the next edition of the Nations Cup in 2012.

For now, the side will be content with memories of their victory in Luanda’s November 11 Stadium and the resulting ranking jump, which takes them to their highest position in four years. Malawi jumped 17 places to 82nd in the world, some way off their all-time high of 53rd, but an equally big jump from a low of 138, to which Malawi had plummeted in March 2008. It’s a just reward after some strong results in their Nations Cup warm-up matches along with their solid performance at only their second Cup of Nations.

Coach Kinnah Phiri was something of a playing legend himself in the country, known as the “warm heart of Africa,” and he’s been offered a new contract once his current deal runs out in June. Taking the youthful Malawian side to their first Nations Cup finals since 1984 was proof he was the right man for the job after several disappointing experiments with expatriate coaches, according to Football Association of Malawi president Walter Nyamilandu.

South African core
The majority of Phiri’s best players are foreign-based, although most exports are to South Africa. Striker Esau Kanyenda was a teenage scoring talent who moved to Russia and spent a short spell at Lokomotiv Moscow, but he is now in the second tier of Russian football with FC Kamaz.

Russel Mwafulirwa plays for IFK Norrkoping, recently relegated to the second tier of professional football in Sweden, and midfielder Daniel Chitsulo was signed as a teenager by FC Cologne but never made it to the Bundesliga and is now at Rot-Weiss Essen. Chitsulo, however, has long dropped out of national team contention. At the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, Joseph Kamwendo caught the eye in midfield, and defender Elvis Kafoteka scored an outstanding goal. Kafoteka has since signed with APR FC in Rwanda. 

The next target for the Flames is the 2012 African finals, which are being co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Malawi are in the same qualifying group with Botswana, Chad and Tunisia, who will be the favourites to top the table.