All ended square in Francistown as Malawi managed to hang onto a goalless draw after an impressive showing from hosts Botswana in a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifier where both rattled the woodwork. A flurry of late chances meant both sides arguably left feeling they should have picked up a vital lead heading into Tuesday's return leg, but it ended honours even.
For the hosts, Tumisang Orebonye and Omaatla Kebatho both went close - the former thumping the bar as the Zebras looked a real aerial menace during a second half which they were the dominant outfit. However, Malawi's Richard Mbulu so easily could have snatched a precious advantage as he nodded just wide with the final touch of the game.
The pair had already rattled the woodwork, with Botswana going inches away from a spectacular opener after just five minutes, courtesy of Joel Mogorosi's sharp turn and volley from almost 30 yards out. Brighton Munthali in the Malawi goal, who was a thorn in the side of the hosts throughout, could only scramble across and watch it cannon off the upright.
Come the second period, the Flames - ranked 21 places above Botswana in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in 126th - likewise went agonisingly close. Gerard Phiri's left-footed free-kick left Kabelo Dambe with little chance, but the post came to his rescue. They will now decide over 90 minutes who proceeds when they lock horns in Blantyre in three days' time (15:00 local time kick-off).
Sunday will see the first quartet of teams seal their place in the second round of African qualifying for Qatar 2022, with so much to be decided in some keenly-contested games.
All four will be streamed live on FIFA.com and our YouTube channel:
- Lesotho - Ethiopia (0-0 agg.) - Maseru, Lesotho (15.00 local time, 15.00 CEST)
- Tanzania - Burundi (1-1 agg.) - Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania (16.00 local time, 15.00 CEST)
- Equatorial Guinea - South Sudan (1-1 agg.) - Malabo, Equatorial Guinea (17.00 local time, 18.00 CEST)
- Sierra Leone - Liberia (1-3 agg.) - Freetown, Sierra Leone (16.30 local time, 18.30 CEST)