Airtel Top 8 Preview: Who will make the final call?

Nyasa Big Bullets versus Civil Service United

The Airtel Top 8 Cup semifinal has served up a mouthwatering encounter between Blue Eagles, who won the Cup in 2018, and FCB Nyasa Big Bullets, who won the competition in 2021 season.

This first of the two semifinal showdowns will be contested at Bingu National Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Unlike in the quarter-finals, there is no second leg in the semis, and the winner will face either Mighty Mukuru Wanderers/ Silver Strikers or Mafco FC in the final.

The two teams met a fortnight ago just before the international break in a Super League match that ended goalless, but the current form favors Eliya Kananji’s charges to carry the day at the expense of the struggling giants who have had a frustrating period after failing to win in their last four straight league games.

The Road to the semis…

Eagles had to overcome very resilient Moyale Barracks to book themselves a place in the last four. The first quarterfinal match was played at Rumphi Stadium, in which Gilbert Chirwa gave the visitors an early lead.

But Gasten Simkonda leveled to go into the second leg at 1-1.

In the return leg, Christopher Gototo and Kingsley Kuwali scored early to hand Kananji’s side a massive advantage, but before the halftime break, Charles Nkhoma and Raphael Phiri leveled to put Moyale Barracks at an advantage due to number of goals scored away from home.

However, Ganizani James broke Moyale’s hearts with a late strike to restore his side’s lead and eventually send them into the semifinal of this knockout cup.

Bullets also struggled to beat Civil Service United in the two-legged ties. The first meeting at Civo Stadium ended 2-0 in favor of Kalisto Pasuwa’s charges.

But in the second leg, Civil almost repeated what they did to Bullets in 2015 when they knocked them out of the then Standard Bank with a hard-fought but memorable 2-1 win at Bullets’ venue.

A strike each from Lloyd Aaron and Chifundo Ngapenga secured a 2-1 win over Bullets, but it wasn’t enough to secure a place in the semis as they lost the match 3-2 to The People’s Team.

By reaching the last four of the competition, Bullets have become the only team to have reached this level on four occasions, having reached the semis in 2018, 2021, 2022 and in the ongoing campaign.

If they advance to the final, they will also become the first team to reach the final four times since the competition was launched in 2017.

They played in the 2018 final 2021 final and 2022 final, winning once, and losing twice.

Previous Airtel Top 8 Cup meetings

The last meeting between the two teams in this competition was in 2018 season at Sunday’s venue.

This was a final showdown that was heading towards a stalemate, and penalties were the next course of action to find the winner.

But, with less than three minutes to go before the final whistle, Referee Misheck Juba awarded Eagles a penalty for a foul on Chirwa from Yamikani Fodya.

This decision triggered massive protests from Bullets fans, but in the end, Stewart Mbunge stepped up to score the winning goal that handed the area 39 based side their first ever trophy in years.

The aftermath of Mbunge’s goal was fatal, as an alleged Bullets fans rioted, resulting in a one-year ban from the competition imposed by the Football Association of Malawi.

In 1990, Eagles recorded a 2-0 win over Bullets in the then Chibuku Super Cup, and this was the first meeting between the two teams before the 2018 meeting.

Bullets’ form at BNS

They recently won the FDH Bank Cup final at this magnificent stadium after they hammered Mafco FC 3-0.

They are unbeaten in open play at BNS in their last five games while Eagles lost 2-1 to Silver Strikers in the league match.