Malawi’s Phirifiring up the Flames
Although Malawi have never participated in a FIFA World Cup, hopes are rekindled every four years with the start of the African qualifiers for football’s flagship event. The road to Qatar 2022 was no exception, especially with The Flames beating first-round opponents Botswana 1-0 over two legs and now keen to go further.
“It’s obviously a dream but nothing is impossible. We have the talent and every chance,” said Gerald Phiri, the scorer of the only goal against Botswana. “However, we’re not putting any pressure on ourselves as this is a learning process for us. Our team is young, so we have to be patient and mature fully.”
Phiri certainly knows what he is talking about. The national team vice-captain is one of the most experienced players in the squad. Much of this experience has been acquired in South Africa, where he has been playing his club football since 2015.
“Being able to develop there is a great opportunity for me, especially as a player from Malawi, where the standard is lower. I realise how fortunate I’ve been, but I also know that a lot of hard work lies ahead if I am to stay at this level,” explained the Baroka attacking midfielder.
Incidentally, South Africa was where he enjoyed one of his most memorable moments with The Flames. It was against Bafana Bafana in Rustenburg that he scored his first international goal in 2015. “That was a very memorable moment,” he said. “It was a friendly and I started on the bench. When I came on, I only had 20 minutes to prove myself, but I found time to score from a free-kick. I was immensely proud.”
However, the last of his nine international goals – the penalty kick that sealed Malawi’s qualification against Botswana – was vastly more significant.
“Of course, I’ll treasure that one too! It was a particularly intense moment: a penalty awarded in the 80th minute with the match tied. Throw in a packed stadium and the high stakes involved... I was a little nervous but, in spite of that, I managed to keep my head,” he recalled.
Naturally, this match-winning spot kick made the No10 something of a national hero. However, being a good playmaker, Phiri prefers to focus on the collective: “I don’t know if I’ve definitely made a name for myself with that goal, but what interests me is that Malawi are making a name for ourselves on the world stage. And if that goal can contribute to that, then so much the better,” he said.
It must be said that it is far from easy to make a name for yourself in Malawi when you are called Gerald Phiri. Not only does he share a surname with one of the country’s footballing legends Kinnah Phiri, but his father is also Gerald Phiri, a key figure on the Malawian football scene who was caretaker manager of the national team in 2017.
“My father has obviously played a big part in my career. He helped me a lot at the start, and we still talk a great deal. His advice is invaluable and is both that of a father and a football expert,” explained Gerald Junior. “But it hasn’t always been easy. We are still waiting for the son to do as well as the father... though I don’t think we should compare ourselves. I just hope to make him proud of my career, which I think he is.”