Malawi, the tournament underdogs, claimed their first scalp yesterday when they recorded a surprise victory over Algeria, who won the competition in 1990. Goals from Russell Mwafulirwa, Elvis Kafoteka and Davi Banda had the match wrapped up shortly after half-time and propelled them to the top of Group A ahead of the more fancied Angola and Mali. "We know we are being treated as the underdogs," said the Malawi midfielder, Josephy Kamwendo. "We know we are playing against big teams but, like them, we are here to win."
Mwafulirwa opened the scoring in the 17th minute with a left-foot shot from a tight angle and Kafoteka increased the lead with a header in the 35th. Banda scored Malawi's third goal with a low shot in the 48th. Algeria, who have qualified for the World Cup, were hugely disappointing and, on this evidence, England, USA and Slovenia will have nothing to fear when they meet Rabah Saadane's side in South Africa this summer.
Algeria's Mohamed Ghezzal had two opportunities inside the first five minutes, but the Malawi goalkeeper, Sanudi Swadick, punched his first effort away at full stretch before his shot from 20 yards flew just wide. After eight minutes, Mwafulirwa found a yard in the Algeria box but headed wide under pressure from Madjid Bougherra, the Glasgow Rangers defender. Malawi surprised their opponents in the 17th minute when they took the lead in somewhat fortuitous fashion.
The Algeria goalkeeper, Faouzi Chaouchi, attempted to clear a long ball but only succeeded in smashing the ball straight into the advancing Essau Kanyenda. The ball broke to Mwafulirwa, who gleefully hammered the ball home. Rafik Saifi had a great chance to level after 24 minutes when he was played through by Karim Ziani's ball over the top but he sent a lobbed effort over the bar. And 10 minutes before the break it was 2-0 as Kafoteka rose highest to head home Hellings Mwakasungula's cross following a short corner.
Algeria's day got even worse four minutes after the break. Chaouchi flapped at a cross and the ball fell to Mwafulirwa. His shot hit the post and an attempted clearance from Bougherra broke to Banda, who finally smashed the ball home. It was the last action of the match from Banda, who injured himself in scoring and limped off the pitch moments later. Mustapha Yatabare headed over when he should have pulled one back for Algeria, while at the other end Chiukepo Msowoya headed into the side netting.
But it was a deflated Algeria team by that point and they offered little in the closing stages as Malawi went top of the group. They play Angola on Thursday. * With agencies