The sheer impact of that defeat at Kamuzu stadium last Monday has left even those of us that have witnessed enough drama to last us a lifetime, groping for words to explain it. It was at once a disappointing performance and in some ways a very unfortunate affair.
The phantom Covid positives from the Malawi Football Federation and the lack of goals, all served not to only invite disbelief but also paint the whole week in a blankness too painful to grasp.
And the warnings of doom were there from October 2020. It seems our strikers never fully woke up from that Covid induced slumber. It took a central defender to rescue us versus South Sudan at home and we blanked everything else thereafter. It didn’t have to be like this as we now know.
Those three goals over the entire campaign were not predestined. Yes, we did attempt to manage the crisis by suspending Johnny McKinstry but what we needed was a more direct intervention. Like we did during the second half in Blantyre to enliven the game, we should have gathered the courage to change the striking team in October or even before.
At Fufa, though, they don’t have the luxury of suffering analysis paralysis. In eight weeks, the World Cup qualification campaign commences and there are urgent matters to attend to. Does Mckinstry return or has Abdallah Mubiru done enough to warrant a confirmation? Is the mix of experience and youth right, or do we rejig?
Then there is the wider psychological fall out of the players themselves. You see, many times such a painful defeat leaves behind a landscape of ruins where everything seems lost. That, too, has to be managed.
Oddly though for all the feelings of failure and the need to act, I find myself buoyed by hope. Perhaps it is because, after having travelled with and observed the Cranes at close range over a short two days, I have come to believe that there is enough mental strength in there to overcome this setback. But hope?
We were either top or second in Group B until the last day and look how brutally our hopes were dashed on a bitterly windy afternoon in Blantyre. Surely only a blind optimist would believe in anything else.
But hope is a leap of faith. It requires the willingness to act on conviction that a better future is possible. Hope is neither easy nor clichéd. It entails the psychological work of confronting the world as it is and still finding cause to move on.
And say what you will, but the Cranes are a much better managed outfit these days. I have no doubt that they are capable of overcoming this setback quite quickly. The grassroot structures that feed it are in place and we all saw enough during Afcon U-20 to believe the future is bright.
The technical and administrative support systems are such that the team regularly travels by charter, stays at 4-star hotels, and gets its pay on time. At the minimum, such is what is required to recover from calamity.
Back at the team hotel after the game I saw hurt and quiet contemplation. But I also saw strength and courage. The elimination was upsetting but there was no pity party. All I saw through dinner and on the ride back home was mental strength.
Does the pain go away? Have we learnt from the shortfalls of our arrogance? I don’t know. But what I do know, what the Blantyre trip taught me is that we possess within our current Cranes setup the resources to bounce back.