Ten-man Nyasa Big Bullets yesterday survived AmaZulu FC’s siege to claim a narrow 1-0 victory in the 2020 CAF Champions League preliminary round first leg at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Veteran Chiukepo Msowoya put the TNM Super League champions in the lead in the 26th minute, but a red card to Yamikani Fodya just before half-time changed the complexion of the game putting Bullets in an awkward situation to defend the narrow lead.
They miraculously survived a barrage of attacks from the hosts, thanks to a formidable defence and heroic saves from goalkeeper Richard Chimbamba.
Coach Callisto Pasuwa did not pull punches as he unleashed his best XI of experienced players in a 4-4-2 formation.
The back four had Sankhani Mkandawire, Fodya, Gomezgani Chirwa and Miracle Gabeya—all tried and tested.
Henry Kabichi, Chimwemwe Idana, McFarlen Mgwila and Chimango Kayira played in the midfield while Babatunde Adepoje and Chiukepo paired upfront.
Pasuwa’s counterpart Benni McCarthy also used a 4-4-2 formation, throwing in his best arsenal with Veli Mothwa in goals, Philani Zulu, Tercious Malepe, Tapelo Xoki and Kgotso Moleko in defence.
Thabo Qalinge, Xola Mlambo, Makhehleni Makhaula and Luvuyo Memela were deployed in midfield with Siphesihle Maduna and Lehlohonolo Majoro as twin strikers.
The hosts were desperate to start strong as they pinned Bullets in their half for a good 20 minutes of the first-half.
Bullets panicked and committed some fouls as Fodya earned a yellow card.
But against the run of play, Bullets took the lead in the 26th minute with the first attempt at goal.
AmaZulu goalkeeper Mothwa managed to save Babatunde’s initial shot but Chiukepo hit the rebound, giving the ‘keeper no chance to recover.
Babatunde should have doubled the lead in the 38th minute but his header hit the post.
Bullets were dealt a blow in the 40th minute after Fodya was shown a second yellow card.
With a man down, the second-half was a nightmare for Bullets who had to defend and made minimal movement upfront.
With time ticking on, AmaZulu at least hoped to hold the visitors, but fate would not have it.
The hosts were denied by the upright post three times in an avalanche of attacks on Bullets goal.
Uncounted times Chimbamba came to the rescue of Bullets, including top notch saves from two free kicks just outside the box from Siyethemba Sithebe and Mzava, who replaced Memela, in the added-on time as Bullets cruised to a historic victory.
For some coaches such losses would have been blamed on bad luck, but not McCarthy.
“Unlucky? No. We played the way we do and you come out without a goal. You make your own luck. It’s just incompetence in front of goal and not being ready for challenge you are up against.
“In these games you can’t play with seven of eight players. Everyone has to play. It’s just a question of not taking the chances and now you face the reality,” the Bafana legend said in a post-match interview.
He also blamed the referee for denying his side a goal for a foul on Chimbamba.
Pasuwa said he was happy to win after the red card that affected his game plan.
“Like I said, we came here knowing this is a good team technically as well as speed play, and pound-for-pound we couldn’t match them. That’s why we had to catch them on a counter. Every time we had to be compact. That is why we had to play and sit back. It was unfortunate that we got the red card. But the boys did very well.”
The two sides clash at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe in the second leg on September 18.