'It's time to pat the underdogs'

Malawi tell Al Jazeera that 3-0 Africa Cup of Nations win over Algeria was no shock.


    Malawi coach Kinnah Phiri gets some attention from the international media [Paul Rhys]

    Kinnah Phiri could be about to lose his temper.

    The Malawi coach is standing on the sunny rooftop terrace of a hotel in central Luanda, and has just been asked for the umpteenth time to comment on his side's shock victory against Algeria the day before.

    That the 99th-ranked team in the world won 3-0 against a team freshly qualified for the World Cup might reasonably prompt talk of an upset.

    But the 55-year-old's normally smiling face darkens at any mention that Malawi threw a surprise in recording their first ever Africa Cup of Nations victory.

    'No shock'

    "It's looking like a shock to some people, but to us it's not a shock," said Phiri on Tuesday.

    "People didn't believe we could get through the first qualifying round for this competition. But we beat Egypt in front of 40,000 of our fans and eliminated DR Congo – still they didn't believe.

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    "In the next round we drew with Ivory Coast and beat Guinea, and here we are.

    "It's not a poor performance from Algeria. We played better."

    Phiri, a star striker for Malawi in East and Central Africa trophy successes in the 1970s and 80s, shares a birthday with Argentina coach Diego Maradona on October 30.

    But he could not be more dissimilar in nature to the foul-mouthed former World Cup winner, describing himself as "like a father" to his players and taking a distinctly down-to-earth approach to football.

    Attempts to hype Malawi's next fixture against hosts Angola, when they could qualify for the quarter-finals, received short shrift.

    "I don't think it's anything to talk about," he said.

    "Angola are going to use 11 players, and we are going to use 11 players. It won't be anything strange."

    England test

    Posing for pictures, Phiri and Malawi football association president Walter Manda joked about their team taking Algeria's place at South Africa 2010, and asking England coach Fabio Capello to bring his players to Blantyre for a real test ahead of June's finals.

    But Manda, a deep-voiced giant with an air of The Wire's Stringer Bell about him, is serious when he says Malawi haven't been given any credit for two years of hard work.

    "There has been no international media recognition of the exploits and successes of the Malawi team in the last few years," he said.

    "Now they're saying they're disappointed with Algeria, instead of heaping praise on Malawi.

    "We're happy to be called underdogs – but when we do well someone must pat us on the back."

    After their match against Angola on Thursday, Malawi are due to play their last Group A game against Mali on January 18 in Cabinda, the northern enclave where the Togo team bus was attacked by armed separatists last week.

    'Real threat'

    "For us, the threat is real and we're taking it seriously," said Manda.

    "Since the attack it looks like security has been very tight in Cabinda. So if security is still tight there's no reason not to go"

    Kinnah Phiri, Malawi coach

    "We know it's peaceful here in Luanda. We hope it's peaceful in Cabinda too."

    Phiri said he and his team were happy to go to Cabinda, pending details of increased security provided by the Angolan government since two members of Togo's party were killed last Friday.

    "Since it first happened it looks like security has been very tight there," he said.

    "That's why our friends Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Ghana are still there playing their games.

    "So if security is still tight there's no reason not to go."

    Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso played out a nil-nil draw without incident in Cabinda on Monday, as Ghana sat out from Group B action due to Togo's withdrawal from the tournament.

    Phiri is keeping his team's feet firmly rooted to the ground ahead of the prospect of playing one of those teams from the footballing powerhouse of West Africa in the quarter-finals.

    Of more immediate importance when Al Jazeera spoke with him on Tuesday was the news that Malawi's evening training session had been cancelled because Angola were using the same pitch.

    But he did allow himself one moment of satisfaction at his team's victory at the November 11 stadium the day before.

    "I think it's the first time a team from Central Africa has got such a result in this competition," he said.

    "Coaching the team I played with for so many years, this moment is really special for me."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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