Blantyre versus Lilongwe: Giants battle for Airtel Top 8 Cup final slot

Bullets vs Silver in previous encounter

Defending champions Nyasa Big Bullets versus Silver Strikers, finalists of the previous edition, headline the semifinal fixtures in the Airtel Top 8 competition as the two teams face off at Kamuzu Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The two semifinalists have won the last two editions of the cup, with The Central Bankers clinching it in 2019, while The People’s Team are the defending champions after their triumph over Saturday’s opponents in 2020/21 final.

Blue Eagles in action against Dedza (Pic courtesy of Aluso)

In the second semifinal, Mighty Mukuru Wanderers, who are out to halt a three-year trophy drought, clash with the 2018 winners Blue Eagles at the same venue on Sunday. This will be the first time that the two teams have clashed in the competition since its inspection in 2017 season.

Interestingly, out of the four semifinalists, The Nomads are the only side yet to win the competition after they lost to The Central Bankers 10-9 in the 2017 final at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe.

The Bankers won it twice in 2017 and 2019 while Eagles and Bullets won it once in 2018 and 2020/21 respectively.

Now we preview the semifinals in detail

Bullets vs Silver

Bullets have been the lone dominant force in Malawian football for the past decade, claiming accolades in each and every season from 2012 but their dominance in the 2022 season reached a milestone when they claimed the Super League title and the FDH Bank Cup. Prior to this, Kalisto Pasuwa’s men claimed the Charity Shield after they got the better of Leo Mpulura’s side with a hard-fought 1-0 victory in March.

During this period, one of the many trophies that proved elusive for Bullets was the Airtel Top 8. That is until they finally won it in 2021 when they beat Silver 5-4 on penalties after the regulation time ended 1-1.

Bottom of Form

Now, in their effort to add another trophy to their collection and possibly to complete a treble winning season, The People’s Team clash with the Area 47 based side. The Bankers claimed their second overall “top eight” title in 2019. Prior to that triumph, they had never won any silverware since 2017 when they won the cup in its inaugural year.

The last time these teams met in this tournament was in the 2021 finals in the 2020/21 campaign when Bullets came out on top in a fierce tussle. They won the match on shootout.

Overall, since 2016, the two teams have met six times in cup competitions, with Silver Strikers boasting the bragging rights in this particular instance. The Bankers have plundered Bullets four times, with The People’s Team claiming a single victory.

Nonetheless, Bullets have enjoyed the bragging rights in recent clashes across all competitions. They have won the past four, dating back to 2019, scoring nine goals in the process and conceding only four. Silver have simply not found a way to contain them of late.

This match promises to be an entertaining and enterprising encounter, with the semifinalists’ 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.

Road to the semis

Bullets hammered Karonga United 8-1 in the two-legged ties but the job was successfully done in the first leg when the defending champions hammered the Northern Region based outfit 7-0 before a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at Karonga Stadium.

As for The Bankers, they had to wait for the second leg for them to progress to the last four after they were held to a 1-1 by Kamuzu Barracks at home before winning the return leg 2-0 to progress to the semis with a 3-1 goal aggregate.

Eagles vs Wanderers

Wanderers have not won a trophy of any kind since they lifted the Fisd Cup in 2018 season. It is the longest barren run in recent years for the club which is known with illustrious history.

Reaching the semifinals of this competition takes them a step closer to trying to end this lengthy drought for one Malawi’s most decorated clubs.

Wanderers have reached the semifinals of the Airtel Top 8 Cup on three occasions since the competition was launched in 2017 but the furthest, they have gone was in its inaugural year when they reached the finals only to lose to Silver on penalties.

Meanwhile, the Area 30 based side are in their second Top 8 semifinal since 2017. They successfully won the cup in 2018 when they defeated Bullets 1-0 courtesy of a Stuart Mbunge’s last minute spot kick at BNS but they missed out of the competition the following year as they finished outside the top 8 in the league standings.

Recently, Eagles have enjoyed good run of form over Wanderers, recently being a 1-0 league victory over The Lali Lubani boys who are yet to beat their counterparts in more than five meetings.

Road to the semis

Eagles did most of the job in the first leg when they hammered debutants Dedza Dynamos 3-0 at Nankhaka Stadium. Little did they know that the second leg would be very tough as they survived a scare after the rookies scored two late goals but failed to find the third goal which would have taken the game to penalties.

On the other hand, Wanderers got the better of Mafco FC when theY hammered them 4-0 in the two quarterfinal matches. The first leg saw Wanderers scoring two first half quick goals and they completed the riot in the second leg with another 2-0 win over the Salima based Soldiers to progress to the semis.

Out of the four teams, only the defending champions have something to show having won Super League and FDH Cup and this makes the semifinals very exciting because Airtel Top 8 Cup presents the only opportunity for the other three teams to win a silverware before going to the off-season break.

Just like the last edition of the cup, Bullets are the highest scoring team with eight goals, seconded by Wanderers with four goals whilst Silver and Eagles scored three goals each.

The winner will walk away with K17 million in prize money and a beautiful trophy.

The Top 8 competition will officially mark the end of the 2022 season in the top flight that started in March this year.

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