The 2021 Airtel Top 8 culminates in a potentially exhilarating final this Saturday as Nyasa Big Bullets lock horns with defending champions Silver Strikers in what is likely to be the biggest game of the season.
The two giants are the highest scoring teams in the latest edition of the competition but this afternoon’s game will be totally different from the games they have played to reach this stage.
The final, which will be hosted at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre, promises to be an entertaining and enterprising encounter, with the finalists’ technical teams taking pride in being possession-based.
For instance, both teams believe in keeping the ball for longer periods of the game, thus playing on the front foot.
As such, owing to similarities in playing philosophies, the team with better-pressing schemes stands a better chance at clinching the title.
In previewing the possible outcome ahead of the match, analysis done on domestic matches was the key factor since both teams did well in the league as well as other competitions.
Let’s preview the final:
Both teams overcame quality opponents to earn a shot at the title, but it was Bullets which has had two crucial opposition before making it to the final.
Bullets overpowered Mafco FC to win 5-2 in the two-legged affair before dismantling rivals Mighty Wanderers 4-1 in the semifinals.
For the Central Bankers, the route to the final has been as treacherous, as they had to go past TN Stars 1-0 before completing the riot with a fantastic 4-1 win to progress to the last four with a 5-1 goal aggregate.
In the semifinals, they swept aside their rivals Civil Service United 2-0 to set up a final showdown with the People’s Team.
Nyasa Big Bullets
By playing at home, in front of thousands of their fans, many would expect this to be one of those games, that on paper, should be a walk in the park for the Blantyre giants. But as we know, football isn’t played on paper, it’s played on the pitch.
Despite being the dominant team in Malawians football for a period of time now, the People’s Team have struggled in this eight-team format since its inspection in 2017, failing to win it in 2018 when they lost 1-0 to Blue Eagles.
Head coach Kalisto Pasuwa has managed to defend every league title since he took over from Eliya Kananji but winning a cup competition has proved to be very difficult and this, being his first time to reach a cup final, he will surely go for the kill in order to claim a double in what he described as “the toughest football season”.
Ever since the Airtel Top 8 was launched in 2017, Bullets have played 10 games. Their first match was against Saturday’s opponents in the quarterfinal stage of the competition in 2017 when they lost 2-0 in the two-legged affair.
In 2018, Bullets defeated Moyale Barracks 1-0 in the two legged quarterfinal match before eliminating Wanderers 2-1 to progress to the semifinals before losing 1-0 to Blue Eagles courtesy of a last penalty kick from Gilbert Chirwa, a game which resulted into fan violence and Bullets were eventually banned from competing in the next edition of the competition.
In 2021, Bullets smashed Mafco FC and Wanderers to reach this stage.
They are the most successful team in this competition. They won it in 2017 before reclaiming it again in 2019.
In the current season, they roasted TN Stars 5-1 in the two-legged affair before beating Civil Sporting Club to reach the finals. But this will be the first time for the Bankers to play the final outside Lilongwe.
Their Airtel Top 8 Cup success all came at Bingu National Stadium.
Head to Head
The two teams will be meeting in a cup final for the first time in more than two decades. The last cup final between them was in 1998 in which Bullets hammered the Central Bankers 4-1 but since then, they haven’t faced each other in any cup final.
However, in the Airtel Top 8 Cup, they met twice (in 2017) and it was Silver who progressed to the finals after beating the People’s Team 2-0.
However, in the Super League competitions, since 2019, Bullets have had seven wins against Silver’s three.
Recently, the Bankers knocked out Bullets in the FDH Cup at their own backyard and this alone is a sign that the cup final on Saturday will be very difficult to predict.
When looking at Bullets’s potential starting three such as Babatunde Adepoju, Lanjesi Nkhoma and Hassan Kajoke, these are very quick players with great ability to get behind the defense, thus latching onto defense-splitting passes. Therefore, they would want to apply pressure on the immensely talented and creative midfield of Chimwemwe Idana, giving them less time and space to play that incisive pass.
Whereas the Bankers team, their ability to play out of press, initiates quality fast-break attacks, makes it even more important for the opposition to come up with better and more efficient ways to press them. It is for this reason that the better pressing team will win this game; as in, the team that suffocated the other with a higher work rate out of possession is going to win the game.
Presently, both teams have everything to play for specifically when coming to the Airtel Top 8.
In conclusion, if we are to follow football logic, Bullets should win comfortably on Saturday, as they are more press-resistant than their opponents and have a higher conversion rate. Moreover, it is quite crucial to note that between the two sides, Bullets works tirelessly to win the ball back.