Airtel Top 8 Cup: Where was the final won by FCB Nyasa Big Bullets?

Nyasa Big Bullets Airtel Cup 2023 winners

FCB Nyasa Big Bullets completed a historical quadruple on Saturday afternoon after they defeated Mafco FC in front of a packed Kamuzu Stadium.

A brace from Lanjesi Nkhoma was enough to seal the victory for Kalisto Pasuwa’s men who won every trophy in the just-concluded season.

Nkhoma’s opening goal set the tone for a match dominated by Bullets, but Prichard Mwansa’s men were handed a lifeline when Nickson Nyasulu scored in his net to put the match at 1-1 before another strike from the pacey winger that gave Bullets a second-half lead that won the match for the undisputed champions. Bullets’ experience at such a big stage came to the fore.

Let’s take a look at how the final was won by Pasuwa’s charges.

Cup final experience and big match temperament

After beating Silver Strikers in the final back in 2021 at the same venue, Bullets were the better team when it came to head-to-head comparisons ahead of the final.

By reaching the final of this competition, they became the only team with four Airtel Top 8 Cup final appearances, and this alone was an added advantage to a side that won everything in the just-ended season.

Even though Bullets didn’t look convincing, especially in the first half, experience mattered most, and Jingles managed to get out a good team to ensure they lifted the trophy for the second time since its launch in 2017.

By winning it on Saturday, they matched Silver’s record of winning it twice following their successes in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Boasting players such as Patrick Mwaungulu, Nkhoma, Maxwell Phodo, Ernest Petro, and Gomezgani Chirwa, the Blantyre-based giants were having an added advantage in the game, but Kalisto Pasuwa had to warn his charges to avoid complacency against a side that had come to prove a point.

Because Mafco beat Silver in the semis, Pasuwa knew exactly what he was dealing with; a highly motivated side willing to end their longest trophy drought in front of a packed stadium.

Even though Bullets had the best ammunition for the clash, Pasuwa had to ensure he neutralized players like Mphatso Philemon, Peter Kasonga, Stain Malata, and Prince Kachere, and this worked as Mafco struggled to create meaningful chances as they were mostly second on the ball.

Lanjesi Nkhoma’s contribution
The pacey winger managed to help Bullets revive their status with a brace in the final. He would go on to boost his profile as one of the dangerous players on the domestic scene with his important goals that sealed the win for The People’s Team.

He scored in the semis against Blue Eagles before putting Mafco to the sword with a strike in each half to ensure that Bullets’s quadruple dream was a reality. His pace caused a lot of problems for the hosts who were just very lucky to concede only two goals as Bullets created plenty of goal-scoring chances with their high-pressing football.

His contribution to the team was enormous as he won the Golden Boot Award with three goals, beating teammates Phodo and Hassan Kajoke, who finished the campaign with two goals apiece.

Mafco’s bravery
Although they lost the final, Mwansa’s men showed a good fight to reach their second cup final, and they will be encouraged by their overall performance in the just concluded season.

Many would have given them a zero chance in terms of lifting the trophy when it comes to numbers and quality, but Mwansa was hoping to lift his first major trophy as a coach. Beating Pasuwa’s men was a massive motivation for the minnows, and their mission was to end Bullets’s dream of sweeping every trophy in the land, but they faced an opponent that was gunning for every gold medal to create their history.

The Salima-based outfit deserves credit for the gallant fight against a team that continues to dominate in the domestic scene.

 Kalisto Pasuwa’s tactical setup
The tactician set his team up in a 4-3-3 shape, with Mwaungulu and Petro playing as two number 10s behind Phodo. An excellent goal from Nkhoma gave them a lead, after which they looked to use overload in the first part of their build-up to dominate possession. 
The defense also played a double pivot that overloaded Mafco’s front three. Both Mwaungulu and Petro were tightly marked by Mafco’s double pivot, but they looked to take up wide positions. This gave Bullets’ deeper players the opportunity to penetrate with either forward passes or dribbles into midfield.

 Direct access to Phodo
The number 10s held their positions in the inside channels, freeing up space for Phodo to drop in and connect with Bullets back line. Whenever the Mafco front line marked closely around Bullets’ deeper midfielders, the back four of Clyde Senaji, Precious Phiri, Gomezgani Chirwa, and Nickson Nyasulu simply bypassed them and played into Phodo’s feet. 

This served to take out four Mafco players with one pass. Curved rubs inside from Mwaungulu and Petro then created wider passing options for wingers Nkhoma and Anthony Mfune.

Nyasa Big Bullets vs Mafco Airtel Cup final
A Bullets player (in red) skips past a Mafco player

 Number 10 runs behind
Forward runs from two number 10s proved key to Bullets’ attacking threat in the second half. Both Nkhoma and wingback Chirwa moved more towards the ball and received deeper than Mafco’s back line. The full-backs initially let them receive freely but eventually jumped out in an attempt to limit their ball-carrying threat. 

From here, spaces emerged for Petro and Mwaungulu to run behind. As one penetrated the corner of the penalty area, the other would join Phodo as a second central threat. One of the double pivots- usually Senaji, would push through central spaces and lock off the edge of the box. It was one such run from Mwaungulu that led to the penalty from which Nkhoma scored from the rebound after a save from Christopher Mikuwa.

Dealing with Mafco’s man-marking
As they chased the game, Mafco ended with only one real center-back back, Paul Ndhlovu. Adding an extra player in central midfield effectively made it a man-for-man contest in every area of the pitch.

This negated Bullets’ overload in midfield, but it gave substitute Ephraim Kondowe the time and space to pin Ndlovu and offered his teammates a direct forward passing option to keep gaining territory as they looked to see out the match.

Nkhoma and Phodo, who moved into the right side, maintained their width, which stretched Mafco’s defense and provided spaces for Petro and Mwaungulu to attack into. 

This brought massive pressure to the hosts who conceded a penalty from which Bullets capitalized to win their fourth trophy.

 Narrow attacking numbers
Mwansa set his team up in their usual 4-4-2 shape, with a narrow two-man attacking unit of Mphatso Philemon and Peter Kasonga. This shape put them in a great position to counter-press high up the pitch, but on the ball, they lacked quality. 
Despite gaining some good possession and territory, they struggled to work clear shooting opportunities.

The width was offered by full-backs Dan Chimbalanga and Aubrey Chafewa, but the team lacked a focal point at whom to aim crosses. Malata and Auspicious Kadzongola tried to make late runs towards the back post, but Mafco didn’t try this potentially effective strategy enough in the first half.