Cometh the hour cometh the man. Nyasa Big Bullets’ defining moment comes this evening when they face Uganda Premier League champions Express FC in 2021 Cecafa Kagame Cup final at the 60 000-capacity Benjamin Mkapa Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
It’s the climax of Bullets’ fairy tale journey at the regional competition where as guests, they have overstayed their welcome.
They have maintained an unbeaten run from the group stage where they drew against Young Africans, Express FC and overcame Atlabara to make it to the semi-final where they beat Azam FC 4-2 on post-match penalties to reach the grand finale.
The match is Bullets’ first cup final in regional competitions. It is also the first cup final for a Malawian club since 1983 when Mighty Tigers made it to the Cecafa final and lost to AFC Leopards of Kenya.
For assistant coach Peter ‘Mjojo’ Mponda this is no longer a Bullets battle—it is a battle for both the club and country as Bullets hoist Malawi flag.
“As coaches we know it’s a big game, the players also feel that it is an important game not just for Nyasa Big Bullets, but for Malawi as a nation,” the coach said.
But he is also aware that they survived by the skin of their teeth in the Group A match where they had to come from behind to force a draw against Express.
“I said it before we played them in the group stage that they are a good team. Very organised, and very physical. We played out a one-all draw. It was a very difficult match for us.
“We were trailing 1-0 and the response of the boys was very good. We came back strong and levelled. But we do not want a repeat of the mistake we made of conceding early and start fighting to come back and equalise and then trying to find a winner,” he said.
Bullets will be without their leading scorer at the tournament, Chiukepo Msowoya, who has been excused following his mother’s death on Friday just across the border in Karonga.
“He has travelled back to Malawi. It’s a very big blow to the team. We will miss him,” Mponda said.
However, the coach said it is now up to the team to honour the veteran striker, who has scored two goals, by winning the championship.
“I believe the team will do everything to win it for him,” he said.
Sankhani Mkandawire, who sustained a groin injury in the semi-final against Azam FC, is also doubtful.
Imediately the centre back limped off the field and was replaced by Miracle Gabeya, Bullets conceded two goals within five minutes.
Mponda admitted that it will be a big blow to play without hard tackling Mkandawire.
“The team doctor is still assessing him,” the assistant coach said. “We don’t have much time for him to recover fully.”
But just like Bullets, Express also want it more after failing to reach the final for the past 26 years.
The Ugandan champions captain Enock Walusimbi said they will not miss the chance after they lost 2-1 to Al-Merrikh of Sudan in 1994 final.
“It is a great feeling to reach the Cecafa Kagame Cup final for the first time in 26 years. We have left everything on the pitch up until this moment, but we are ready to do it one more time and win the cup,” the skipper told The Daily Monitor of Uganda.
The winner of the tournament will pocket $30 000 (about K24 million) while the runners-up will receive $20 000 (about K17 million).
Azam and KMKM FC clash in third place play-off with the winner getting $10 000 (about K8.5 million).