Airtel Top 8 Cup preview: Who will pick final call?

...Bullets, Wanderers in first Airtel Top 8 Cup semifinal clash since 2018...

Exactly 37 days after the two sides locked horns in the Malawi Super League, they will once again reignite their rivalry, this time with a place in the Airtel Top 8 final at stake.

For Nyasa Big Bullets, it’s about redemption, after suffering a defeat in the league against their crosstown rivals, who last lifted a trophy in 2018.

From a Wanderers perspective, it’s about bouncing back from a disappointing season which, minus the Airtel Top 8 Cup, would see them finishing empty handed for the second time in a row. But a victory against their bitter rivals will take them a step closer to at least win something before the end of the current campaign.

Let’s now preview the final:

Nyasa Big Bullets

Bullets are unbeaten against their semi-final opponents in the last three Cup competition. Their only defeat during that period came in 2015 during a Carlsberg Cup final played at Civo Stadium in which Wanderers won 2-1 to claim the cup from Bullets who went into the final as the defending champions.

Bullets players

But since then, Bullets have had three successful victories over their rivals.

In 2014, Bullets registered a 1-0 victory over Wanderers in the semifinals of Carlsberg Cup courtesy of an early strike from Jimmy Zakazaka.

In 2018, Bullets met Wanderers in the last four of the ongoing competition at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe. Second half strikes from Bright Munthali and Chiukepo Msowoya saw Bullets claiming a hard-fought 2-1 victory over their neighbours who, despite scoring a late goal through Zicco Mkanda, couldn’t outsmart the People’s Team.

And in 2017, Bullets’ only silverware came at the expense of Wanderers when they recorded a 5-4 post match victory to win the Carlsberg Cup.

But since then, this will be their first semifinal meeting in a cup competition in more than three years.

There has also been a lot of talk about the team dominating the Super League but failing to transform it into Cup success. Last time they won a cup was in 2017 but since then, they are always been knocked out of cup competitions.

The last time they came close was in 2018 when they reached the finals of the ongoing cup but lost to Blue Eagles in a controversial way when referee Misheck Juba awarded Eagles a last-minute penalty.

But since then, their cup journey always ends in the semifinals.

However, coach Kalisto Pasuwa is confident of changing the status quo, saying his side will give it all to progress to the final.

“Yes, we have been training very well and the boys are eager to go. We had some areas that we have been working on especially in the defensive part of it where we have been having problems at times when we are playing and I think being a cup game where you don’t need a draw but a result to take you through, we will throw everything in order for us to come up with a result,” he said.

Mighty Wanderers

Mighty Wanderers have endured an indifferent season and they will be hoping to at least finish the season with something to their name.

Two seasons have now gone without winning any silverware and this doesn’t befit a team of Wanderers’ calibre.

They have been playing second fiddle to their rivals in almost three Cup games.

Bob Mpinganjira knows very well that the level of expectation at Wanderers is very high and he is under pressure to deliver something to the Lali Lubani side.

He is very optimistic of coming out victorious and claim the trophy at the expense of any team that will progress to the finals.

His pre-match interview was very short, telling Wanderers players to rise up to the occasion and claim bragging rights.

“We need this cup but first and most importantly is to beat Bullets. This is a final before the actual final and I am urging my players to rise up to the occasion and win so that we progress to the final and possibly win the cup,” he said.

MATCH FACTS

Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Wanderers will be meeting in a cup competition for the first time since the People’s Team ousted their Blantyre rivals from Airtel Top 8 Cup semifinals in 2018 when Bright Munthali and Chiukepo Msowoya netted in the second half to win 2-1. Wanderers scored their consolation goal through Zicco Mkanda, who is now playing for Bullets.

This will also be the first time for the two teams to play a semifinal match at Kamuzu Stadium in more than seven years.

Bullets haven’t lost to Wanderers in their last three Cup matches. The last Bullets victory came in 2018 in the same competition.

Bullets have played 9 games in the Airtel Top 8 match since its inception in 2017. They lost 2-1 to Silver Strikers in the quarterfinals of the 2017 tournament in a two-legged affair. The People’s Team went into the second leg trailing 2-0 and Silver Strikers defended well to eliminate the Blantyre based giants.

In 2018, Bullets defeated Moyale Barracks 1-0 in the two-legged quarterfinal matches before beating Wanderers 2-1 to progress to the finals where they lost 1-0 to Blue Eagles in the final which was marred with fan violence following a last-minute penalty decision by Referee Misheck Juba.

As a result, Bullets were banned from competing in the tournament in 2019.

In 2021, Bullets eliminated Mafco FC in the quarterfinals after claiming back to back 3-1 and 2-1 victories over the Salima based Soldiers to progress to the semifinals on a 5-2 goal aggregate margin. Bullets have scored 8 goals in the competition since 2017.

On the other hand, Wanderers have played 12 games in this competition.

In 2017, they progressed to the semifinals of the Cup after beating Mighty Tigers 3-1 in a two-legged affair. The Nomads then went on to produce a stunning comeback to beat Moyale Barracks 3-2 at Bingu National Stadium in a match where they were trailing 2-0 before a hat-trick from Khumbo Ng’ambi to take them to the finals where they lost 10-9 to eventual winners Silver Strikers at the same venue.

In 2018, they defeated Kamuzu Barracks 2-0 in the two-legged quarterfinal matches before losing 2-1 to Bullets in the semifinals at Bingu National Stadium.

In 2019, they lost 2-0 to Silver Strikers in the two quarterfinal matches courtesy of Khuda Muyaba and Duncain Nyoni’ strikes.

In the ongoing campaign, the Nomads lost 1-0 to Moyale Barracks in the first leg quarterfinal match at Kamuzu Stadium but they overturned the tables in the second leg with a hard-fought 5-4 post match penalty win over the Mzuzu based Soldiers.

In total, Wanderers have scored ten goals in the history of the competition.

The two teams have never won this competition but they have reached the finals once since its inspection in 2017.

Wanderers were the first of the two teams to reach the finals in 2017 but lost 10-9 to Silver Strikers through penalties following a goalless draw in the regulation time.

A year later, it was Bullets in the finals and just like their neighbours, they lost to another Lilongwe side 1-0 through a Gilbert Chirwa’s last minute penalty that inspired Blue Eagles to a cup triumph over Bullets.

TOURNAMENT FACTS:

Silver Strikers are the most successful club in the tournament’s history, winning two of the three finals that have taken place since 2017.

The Bankers won the cup in its inaugural year after beating Wanderers in post-match penalties before claiming it again in 2019 with a 1-0 victory over Karonga United.

After the Central Bankers, there is Blue Eagles who won the cup in 2018.

There have been three different runners up namely Wanderers, Bullets and Karonga United.

Since being launched in 2017, all the three finals have been played at Bingu National Stadium.

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