Airtel Top 8 preview: Bullets, Karonga United in quarterfinal first leg battle


The first legs of the two-legged Airtel Top 8 Cup quarterfinals take place this weekend, with defending champions Nyasa Big Bullets hosting Karonga United whilst Mighty Mukuru Wanderers will aim to end their three-year trophy drought when they welcome Mafco.

All these two matches will be played at Kamuzu Stadium before the return legs later this month. The other two quarterfinal matches will be played on the weekend of 12 and 13 November respectively.

Let’s take a look at the two matches in detail:

Nyasa Big Bullets vs Karonga United

This will be just the second time that Bullets and Karonga United meet in a national competition. The last Cup encounter between the two teams was in 2017 Fisd Challenge Cup when The People’s Team came from behind to eliminate them from the competition with a 4-2 victory at Chilomoni Stadium.

Since then, they haven’t met but they have had eight league meetings since 2014 from which Bullets had six wins and one loss, with two games ending in draws. From these matches, Bullets scored twenty goals and conceded seven.

Their opponents only two wins from all the meetings from which they scored seven goals and conceded twenty.

Their last victory over Bullets was in 2020/21 season in which Clement Nyondo, now at Dedza Dynamos, scored the only goal to inspire them to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over  the Blantyre giants.

Bullets won the Top 8 Cup in 2020/21 season after they won 5-4 on penalties following a 1-1 result in the normal time.

In 2018, they reached the finals of the Cup but lost 1-0 to Blue Eagles at Bingu National Stadium.

On the other hand, Karonga United reached the finals of the Cup in 2019 but lost 1-0 to the Central Bankers at BNS.

Since then, they haven’t done well and have had mixed results in the top flight league where they are seven points above the relegation zone and if the format of the competition changes next season, they will not be part of it since they are likely to finish outside the top eight this season.

Bullets are heading into this match straight from their first league defeat of the season after playing 25 matches. The People’s Team lost 1-0 away to Mafco FC on Sunday and they will be hoping to bounce back as they target a treble having won the FDH Bank Cup last month and are also closing in on the league title.

They will also strive to completely put the game beyond Karonga United’s reach before playing the return leg on 26 November at Karonga Stadium.

As for their opponents, registering a result over Bullets in the first tie would hand them a massive advantage heading into the second leg.

With the away goal rule set to be applied, any positive result over Bullets in the first leg would put Karonga as favorites for a semifinal spot considering that the giants always struggle to get results at Karonga Stadium. Nevertheless, this promises to be an entertaining match where the winner will have one leg in the semis.

Mighty Mukuru Wanderers vs Mafco FC

An opportunity for Wanderers to at least walk away with a trophy after going three years without any silverware. Reaching the semis of this competition takes them a step closer to trying to end this lengthy drought for one of Malawi’s most decorated clubs.

The Nomads have never won this competition but came close when they lost 10-9 to Silver Strikers on penalties at BNS.

Since then, they have been knocked out in the semis and just last season, they got hammered 4-1 by their rivals Bullets at Kamuzu Stadium.

Meanwhile, Mafco are in their first Airtel Top 8 quarterfinals since its inspection. They did not take part in last season’s competition after they returned to the top flight league following their relegation to the premier division of Central Region Football League in 2019 season.

Buoyed by their hard-fought 1-0 victory over Bullets last Sunday, the Salima based Soldiers will take to the field knowing that a victory would edge them closer to the Cup semis and eventually go all the way to challenge whosoever they will meet in the finals.

It will be a weekend of fun in Blantyre before the completion of the remaining two quarterfinal matches next week.

As a reminder, the top 8 finishers in the first round of the top flight league this season qualified for the tournament.

There was no any draw conducted by Football Association of Malawi (FAM) because position one team was automatically paired against the eighth placed team, with the second placed team playing the seventh positioned team. Third faces sixth and fourth placed team plays against fifth.

The overall winner will pocket K17 million.

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