Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
THE football rivalry between Zimbabwe and Malawi can be traced as far back as the early days of Independence when Zimbabwe were readmitted back into the FIFA family.
Zimbabwe have played Malawi more than any other team in competitive football. The two rivals have met 57 times, which is five games more than the “Battle of the Zambezi’’ featuring our northern neighbours Zambia.
After all, the three countries share the same aspects of history and values, which make them one people. But the football rivalry has stood the taste of time and this could explain why Zimbabwe have played Malawi and Zambia more.
Zimbabwe and Malawi played for the first time on July 6 1980. The script unfolded well in those early days for Zimbabwe, who had kicked off their international campaign with a hard-fought 2-1-win over Zambia in the Independence celebrations match at a packed Rufaro the previous month.
Malawi were next in the line. In fact, four international matches were played between the two new rivals in the last five months of 1980.
The excitement was palpable during that time as Zimbabwe took their baby steps in international football under the tutelage of John Rugg and later Shepherd Murape.
Then one afternoon in July 1980, Zimbabwe and Malawi played for the first time at the then Kamuzu Banda Stadium in Blantyre in an international friendly match which was part of the latter country’s Independence Celebrations.
Malawi then had a strong squad that had the likes of legends Jack “Africa” Chamangwana, Young Chimodzi, Harry Waya, Jonathan Billie, Barnet Gondwe and Kinnah Phiri, who is regarded as the most prolific striker that Malawi have ever produced, on account of his incredible 71 goals in 115 national team appearances in his career.
This same Malawian team went on to qualify for the AFCON finals for the first time in 1984, exactly two decades before the Warriors could achieve the feat.
But in that particular encounter, the day belonged to the Zimbabweans. Utility man Byron “Piri Piri” Manuel broke the hearts of the Flames fans when he gave the Warriors a 1-0 victory in the first international friendly which was played at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre on July 6, 1980.
Two days later the former Chibuku Shumba, Black Aces and Rio Tinto star was on target again against the same opponents in the second international friendly when he gave Zimbabwe a late equaliser in a 1-1 stalemate in Lilongwe.
In fact, Manuel, of American Indian descent, wrote himself a piece of history when he became the first player of colour to score against Malawi at Kamuzu Stadium.
Legend had it that the Malawian fans joked that Zimbabwe managed to win against them because they had brought a “white” player, who scored in both matches.
Later in the year, the brotherly nations were involved in back-to-back AFCON qualifiers and Zimbabwe won the first leg 1-0 at home before drawing the return fixture 1-1.
“The games were tough,” recalled Manuel yesterday from his base in Toronto, Canada.
“Those were great players, the Malawian players. Jack Chamangwana was assigned to mark me; very difficult player to beat. One, he was much bigger in stature than myself, taller too and very physical. He actually put his metal studs into the side of my right knee and tore the flesh open.
“Jimmy Bergough was our medic. He stitched me up with six stitches and John Rugg told me to get back on. Ten minutes later I got the goal from a pass off Shacky Tauro.
“I got in on the far post on the left and Shacky came from the right with the pass across the face of the penalty box. I slotted it in on the far post.
“Barnet Gondwe gave us more of a problem and Majid Dhana worked overtime to contain him. I recall going back to help him in the first 20 minutes every time we were under attack.”
The Zimbabwe team was laced with gifted players such as Graham Boyle, Raphael Phiri, Oliver Kateya, Max Tshuma, captain Sunday (Marimo) Chidzambwa, Joseph Zulu, Charles “Raw Meat” Sibanda, Tymon Mabaleka, Shacky “Mr Goals” Tauro, Gibson “Homeboy” Homela, David “Yogi” Mandigora, Majid Dhana, Bethal Salis, Laban Kandi, Wonder Phiri and Steven Chuma.
After enduring the early blows, the Flames took the bragging rights for the first time between 1982 and 1983 when they went five games unbeaten against Zimbabwe.
In fact, the Flames were to dominate the two decades before Zimbabwe turned around the tables at the turn of the millennium.
Chimodzi took over the captaincy from Chamangwana in the mid-1980s and played on up to the mid- 90s. The defender served the Flames badge with honour and went on to become Malawi’s most capped footballer with 154 games under his belt and he is the highest scoring defender with 12 goals.
His team at some point also had five games unbeaten against the Warriors between 1987 and 1991.
Chimodzi left a legacy as the only Malawian to have represented the southern African country at AFCON finals as a player in 1984 (Cote d’Ivoire) and then coach in 2010 (Angola).
Then there was the generations of John Maduka, Ernest Mtawali and Patrick Mabedi in the 90s and into the 2000s. They always gave Zimbabwe a good run for their money.
Warriors coach Norman Mapeza may not have forgotten how the Flames ruined Zimbabwe’s 1996 AFCON qualification campaign after losing 1-3 at Chichiri Stadium before drawing 1-1 at home in the group matches. Mapeza played in both games.
But from 2001, things changed and Zimbabwe now have a slight upper-hand in the head-to-head statistics. The Warriors have won 20 games, lost 18 and have drawn 19 ahead of tomorrow’s clash.
The Warriors have been clearly dominant in the last 20 years. They have only lost three times to their opponents since the back-to-back wins in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, having met 19 times since then.
Zimbabwe beat Malawi 2-0, courtesy of goals from Benjani Mwaruwari and Edzai Kasinauyo at the National Sports Stadium, to begin the process of reclaiming the bragging rights in March 2001.
Then Master Masuku grabbed a late second half goal at Chichiri to advance Zimbabwe’s cause but the Warriors came four points short at the end of the campaign as group leaders South Africa progressed to the finals of the global football showcase.
Many more games were played in-between, with Zimbabwe dominating.
Against the odds, the Warriors performed a smash grab on their opponents in 2015 when Khama Billiat and Cuthbert Malajila, two players who can trace their ancestry back to Malawi, helped Zimbabwe to a 2-1 win under difficult conditions.
The team, then under Callisto Pasuwa, had made the infamous road trip to Malawi by bus and arrived just in time for the kick-off.
The return leg was a no contest, with Billiat, Malajila and Knowledge Musona on target in the 3-0 thrashing as Zimbabwe made their way to the 2017 AFCON finals held in Gabon.
That was the last time they met in a serious international football competition, before last year’s COSAFA Cup group match which ended in a goalless stalemate.
Zimbabwe and Malawi will meet for the first time at the AFCON finals tomorrow. The Warriors, though, are gracing the event for the fifth time while Malawi, who were last at the 2010 edition, are making a third appearance.
Knowledge Musona, Teenage Hadebe, Onismor Bhasera, Bruce Kangwa, Alec Mudimu and Kuda Mahachi have previous AFCON tournament experience. They narrowly lost 0-1 to Senegal in the opening encounter.
Malawi also fell to Guinea by an identical score line. The Flames played without defender Stanley Sanudi, midfielders Robin Ngalande, Chikoti Chirwa and Charles Petro and striker Frank ‘’Gabadinho’’ Mhango as well as head of technical panel Mario Marian Marinica who were in isolation after testing positive.
But they have boosted their pool after calling for reinforcements ahead of tomorrow’s encounter.