Flames interim coach Mario Marinica has described the failed international friendly matches in Saudi Arabia as a missed opportunity ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Cameroon.
The Flames arrived in Yaounde, Cameroon on Wednesday and are set to kick-start their Afcon campaign against Guinea in their Group B fixture tomorrow after playing only one of their four test matches during their 10-day overseas camping in Saudi Arabia.
The Flames only played against Comoros in a match they triumphed 2-1 yet the plan was to also face Mali and two Saudi Arabian clubs before flying to Cameroon.
Flames players during session in Saudi Arabia
The friendlies were meant to help the Romanian try formations and combinations as the players, some of whom have earned their first call-ups, adapt to his newly-introduced football philosophy.
He said: “During the 10 days, the players worked hard to grasp the philosophy and were very respondent to the new style of play. However, there were some shortcomings, particularly the cancellation of some training sessions due to Covid-19 tests and the failure of some friendly games.”
“By not playing these matches, we did not give all the players a chance to show their fitness and skills. That definitely had an impact on the final squad selection.”
However, he was confident that the players who have made it into the final squad will practise what they have learnt so far as they embark on the Afcon campaign.
“There are a lot of positives that we gained here. The players worked hard and we had an opportunity to play a friendly match, which gave us a glimpse of the progress we have made in changing our playing style. Nevertheless, it could have been much better if we didn’t have some hiccups,” he said.
In the final squad, Marinica has three uncapped players in goalkeeper Charles Thom, defender Lawrence Chaziya and midfielder Zebron Kalima.
Former Flames coach Yasin Osman has since advised Marinica and other members of the technical panel to make up for the failed test matches by providing adequate psychological support.
Said Osman: “I don’t think that he [Marinica] had much choice [on making the final squad selection] since most of his plans did not materialise preparation-wise.
“It is for this reason that he now needs to work on the players psychologically. That way, the players will grow in confidence and believe that they can do well. Nothing is impossible in football.”
Soccer analyst George Kaudza Masina said playing all the planned test matches was a must, considering that Marinica has brought in his style of play barely weeks before the 33rd edition of the Afcon finals.
“When you have taught someone, there is a need for him to demonstrate that he has grasped whatever he was being taught. The failed games were a lost opportunity as they could have accorded Marinica full appreciation of his apprentices,” he said.
Another football analyst George Chiusiwa concurred with Kaudza Masina that the friendlies could have also helped the team to easily come up with the starting line-up.
He said following the failed friendlies, it was very hard for the coach to work on aspects such as coordination, tactical formations and technical combinations of players.
“This undesirable scenario was worsened by the failure of some players to join the Flames camp in Saudi Arabia due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Chiusiwa said.
But former Flames coach Kinnah Phiri, who guided the national team to the 2010 Afcon finals in Angola, said the missed test matches were a blessing in disguise.
He said: “Actually, I didn’t get the results of their friendly game against Comoros, but still, according to my experience, the players were going to be very tired and exposed to injuries with only few days to the Flames opener tomorrow if they played all the four friendly games in Saudi Arabia.”
“Therefore, the cancellation of the other friendlies worked to our advantages because now the coach will have most of his charges fit to start the Afcon games. We should just pray and wish them well in all the games they will play.”