Bullets answer Airtel final call beat Eagles in thrilling semifinal

Nyasa Big Bullets vs Blue Eagles

FCB Nyasa Big Bullets produced a devastating first-half performance before they survived a Blue Eagles fightback to record a hard-fought 3-2 win at Bingu National Stadium and advance to the Airtel Top 8 Cup final.

Two weeks from a goalless draw at Nankhaka Stadium in the Super League, Kalisto Pasuwa’s team appeared to be cruising into the final after scoring two unanswered goals in the first half.

But the hosts came back with a very attacking approach in the second half as they pulled one goal back, before conceding again, but they kept on pushing to score another goal to set up a nervous ending to the game which was won by the 2022 winners.

It was a blockbuster performance from the two teams who gave their fans all the reasons to get satisfied with every penny they paid to watch the match.

The one-time winners, who have become the first club to appear in the final of this knockout competition for the fourth time since its launch in 2017, will face the winner between Mighty Mukuru Wanderers/ Silver and Mafco FC.

What happened

Kalisto Pasuwa made six changes for the contest, with Rabson Chiyenda, Clyde Senaji, Blessings Mpokera and Gomezgani Chirwa returning the backline while Peter Banda and Yankho Singo were in the midfield, as Hassan Kajoke started up top.

His opposite number, Eliya Kananji, returned Richard Rapson to his starting eleven after he was unused substitute in the league meeting while Chakonda Majanga replaced John Soko in the goalkeeping department.

Bullets started well and earned themselves a two-goal lead after just eight minutes of play.

Kajoke used his pace to outrun defender Jacob Robert after the forward received a million-dollar pass from Patrick Mwaungulu following Bullets’ well executed counter-hurricane attack from the right flank of the field. Kajoke wasted no time by releasing a thunderous shot that was just too much for Majanga to handle, 0-1.

The goal was a wake-up call for the hosts who increased their pace and nearly leveled the scoreline in the 7th minute when Micium Mhone forced Chiyenda into making his first save for a cornerkick which produced yet another set piece that was connected well by Tonic Viyuyi, but his header was cleared by Senaji before crossing the line.

The ball landed straight at Chirwa who cleared it out of danger to set up Mwaungulu who found himself in a one on one situation with Robert as Eagles players were all inside Bullets’ half and were yet to recover.

With his pace and skill, Mwaungulu found Lanjesi Nkhoma to his blind side, and the winger moved into the penalty box before unleashing a powerful shot to Majanga’s left-hand side, 0-2.

At the other end, Chiyenda was called into action twice in succession to deny MacDonald Lameck from scoring from two freekicks and from the resulting corners, Eagles failed to capitalize as Bullets defenders stood firm to protect their double advantage.

25 minutes played on the clock, Banda produced a magic moment when his blind pass found Kajoke unmarked inside the penalty box, but the striker produced a weaker shot that was well challenged by Majanga, who was the busiest of the two goalkeepers.

Despite their two-goal margin, the visitors were very fragile, especially in the midfield where Gilbert Chirwa and Paul Master were in total control and had it been the hosts were clinical enough, the scoreline would have been different.

With 30 minutes played, Rapson had his moments when he got the better of Chirwa and made his way into the box. But the winger was selfish as he decided to take matters into his hands by firing at goal when Viyuyi was steady and ready to pounce on the loose ball.

It was a high intensity game between the two teams, more than a cup final as players from both teams were able to press, pass and create chances, the latest being Master who saw his long range effort well saved by Chiyenda for a cornerkick which was wasted by the hosts.

It was a similar story for the rest of the half as the hosts pressed, but Bullets would use some gaps behind spaces to launch their attacks, but kept on missing chance after chance to still give Eagles some hopes of making a second half comeback.

After the recess, Bullets’ intensity completely dropped down as signs of fatigue were all over the place.

This gave the hosts a massive advantage to introduce Christopher Gototo for Viyuwi to improve their attacking prowess.

Indeed, Gototo made things very difficult for Pasuwa’s charges, who were now sitting back to defend their two-goal advantage.

In the 50th minute, Chiyenda denied Gototo from scoring when he was set through by Master, and from the rebound, Mhone almost capitalized, but his effort was blocked by Singo.

It was just a matter of time before they pulled one back. It was Gototo who was found unmarked inside the box by Mhone’s cross to head home from a close range in the 55th minute, 1-2.

This goal meant Kananji’s side was back in the game, and the level at which they were attacking, one would smell another goal from them, but in the shortest period, Gototo, Gilbert Chirwa and Laurent Banda all missed from close range when Bullets’ defense was caught napping in the line of duty.

The pressure was so intense for Bullets and Pasuwa sensed danger by introducing Ephraim Kondowe, Nickson Nyasulu, Stanley Billiat, and Precious Phiri for Banda, Chawanangwa Gumbo, Nkhoma and Kajoke in the 65th minute. These changes saw Mpokera moving into the central midfield, allowing Nyasulu to partner Senaji in defense.

But despite these changes, the area 30 based side never backed down as they pressed from all angles in search of the much needed equalizing goal.

Rapson was giving Alick Lungu so many problems to the left and nearly delivered a knockout punch when his dangerous cross, bound for Gototo, swerved past every Bullets defender before being missed by the attacker who almost made a simple tap in.

Gototo was causing havoc, and he made a huge difference to Eagle’s attack when he dribbled past Chirwa, Singo, and Mpokera before firing at goal. Lucky enough, the effort missed the target when the goal was wide open.

70 minutes on the clock, Eagles’ Chirwa released a thunderous shot that was well saved by Chiyenda.

At the other end, Majanga denied Kondowe an opportunity to register his name on the scoresheet with a fantastic save.

The visitors nearly buried the game in the 78th minute when they caught Eagles on yet another counter attack. Kondowe did a brilliant job to the far right before setting up Mwaungulu who was in a one on one situation with Majanga, but the winger blasted his effort over the crossbar.

That miss could have proved costly as Rapson delivered a cross from a set piece which almost found Gototo unmarked, but Singo made a timely block to clear the danger away from the box.

At 80 minutes, Pasuwa’s charges restored their two-goal advantage with a beautiful finish from Kondowe.

A well-worked move by the visitors ended with a scooped Lungu pass inside the penalty box that found the striker, who hit the ball with power to beat Majanga at his near post, 1-3.

But Bullets’ celebrations were cut shot as they brought back Eagles into the game with a silly goal in the 81st minute.

A long ball from the hosts’ Luke Gustavo caught Gomezgani Chirwa in an earial battle with Rapson and the defender failed to communicate with his goalkeeper who was quick to leave his line of duty and allowed the winger to score one of the easiest goals in the tournament, slotting the ball into an empty net.

Game on. This meant the hosts were back into the game, signifying a nervous ending to the last eight minutes of the match.

A set piece closer to Bullets’ penalty box for Eagles caused panic amongst the visiting fans as Rapson’ delivery found Master on the edge of the box, but his goal-bound shot was well blocked by Nyasulu.

Billiat pounced on Gustavo’s underpowered header back to goal, though the winger’s dinked finish was just off target.

There was to be a tense finish when Master suffered a head injury, a situation that forced Referee David Chinoko to call for the medical team to attend to the player.

Mpokera, who was already on a yellow card, held the ball when he was accused of denying Eagles a restart from a drop ball. Chinoko flashed a second yellow card to the player as four minutes of injury time had been allocated.

This forced each and every Bullets player to regroup as it was now just a matter of managing the game and they succeeded as Chinoko blew the whistle to mark the end of the match.

Bullets players will have no time to relax as they will now proceed to Karonga to face Karonga United in the TNM Super League on Wednesday for a potential title deciding match.

As for the Area 30 cops, they will now switch their attention to the top eight finish in the league and the Castel Challenge Cup which gives them hope for a silverware this season.q