After almost a year without Airtel Top 8 Knockout Cup due to Covid-19 pandemic, the cup is back this weekend with two crucial quarterfinal matches involving two Blantyre based giants against two military teams.
The two matches kick off just hours after sponsors Airtel Malawi Limited and Football Association of Malawi (FAM) unveiled this year’s theme as ‘zamadolo’ eight quality jerseys for the eight teams to use throughout the tournament.
The opening match of the competition will see Nyasa Big Bullets playing host to Mafco FC in the first leg at Kamuzu Stadium on Saturday afternoon before another clash involving Mighty Wanderers and Moyale Barracks at the same venue 24-hours later.
Bullets, finalists in 2018 in which they lost 1-0 to Blue Eagles, have never won the cup despite being Malawi’s most decorated club and coach Kalisto Pasuwa will try his level best to deliver a cup having won three Super League titles in a row.
Bullets, Super League winners, will play the Salima based Soldiers who finished the just ended season on eighth position, three weeks after the two teams shared one point a piece in the Super League at the very same venue they are meeting.
Speaking ahead of the match, Pasuwa spoke on how his charges have prepared for the encounter and how crucial will be the first leg win to his team’s chances of progressing to the next round before the return leg in two weeks’ time.
“We are prepared to face Mafco FC. The players have been trained to achieve something this time around in cup games. We have been lagging behind in most areas when we are playing cup games and you know the approach is quite different from league matches so we just have to be at our level best so that by the end of the two quarterfinal matches, we sail through to the semis,” he told Bullets media.
Bullets will likely be without Chimango Kayira and Ben Manyozo due to injuries but Meshack Selemani passed his late fitness test and might feature for the People’s Team.
The last time these two teams faced off in a cup competition was in 2016 in the last eight of Carlsberg Cup at Civo Stadium in which Kalisto Kalinda scored the only goal to send the Soldiers into the semifinals.
But Mafco FC Coach Yohane Fulaye knows that his side needs to up their game if they are to claim something out of the first leg match but he emphasized on how important it will be for his team if they win at Kamuzu Stadium on Saturday.
“It will be very important for us if we can win the first leg at Kamuzu Stadium before the return leg because it will give as an advantage over our opponents. We failed to defend our first lead in the league because of lack of concentration but that was a lesson to us and I am sure we are heading into this match knowing exactly how dangerous Bullets is if you score only one goal past them so we really need to be at our level best if we are to claim something out of this important game,” he told Mafco FC Media Officer Van Clayton.
On Sunday, Wanderers’ last chance to win a silverware begins with a home game against Moyale Barracks FC.
The Nomads who, for the second time in a row, risk finishing the season empty handed, have a chance of claiming something but that will depend on how good they will be against the Mzuzu based Soldiers.
In the Super League, Moyale Barracks collected four out of the possible six points over the Nomads and they have been enjoying a good form whenever they are facing them at Kamuzu Stadium.
But the Soldiers will be playing a team which is desperate for a silverware considering that they missed out on the Super League and the FDH Bank Knockout Cup.
Finalists in 2017, Wanderers will be relying heavily on their home form before traveling to the North for the second leg.
This will be the second meeting between the two teams in this competition having met in the semifinals of 2017 from which Wanderers came from behind to claim a 3-2 victory at Bingu National Stadium.
The Mzuzu based team will travel to Kamuzu Stadium to avenge that painful defeat in which they were 2-0 before losing concentration which allowed Wanderers to come back and register that important victory.
These two games will open the new campaign with the remaining two kicking off next week.
In July this year, Airtel Malawi plc announced the return of the competition with an increased sponsorship from K198 million to K234 million for the next three years.
The sponsorship hike will se the champions taking home K17 million up from K15 million.