The battle lines have been drawn and the stage is set.
Domestic football powerhouses Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Wanderers clash this afternoon in the latest episode of the Blantyre derby at Kamuzu Stadium to determine the first finalist of the 2021 Airtel Top 8 edition.
The razzmatazz which often characterises this most sought-after fixture has been low key in the build up to the showdown, but behind the scenes, the two teams have been busy at work, tuning up for the big one.
Apart from the pride that comes with the age-old rivalry dating back to the 1960s, this will also be a grudge match as both teams will be on revenge mission.
The People’s Team will be out to avenge the 0-1 defeat in the second round of the TNM Super League, which not only ended their eight-year unbeaten run at home in the league, but also brought down the curtain on their nine-year unbeaten stretch to their arch-rivals.
On the other hand, the Nomads are itching to avenge the 2-1 defeat they suffered in the same competition and at the same stage in 2018 at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe.
Both teams have never won the tournament since its inception in 2017, but have been in the finals once each.
The Nomads lost the inaugural final to Silver Strikers 10-9 through post-match penalties in 2017 while Bullets lost to Blue Eagles 1-0 the following year.
Both teams have also gone through a trophy drought as the last time the People’s Team won a cup was in 2017, four years ago to be precise, when they won the Carlsberg Cup after beating Wanderers.
On the other hand, the Nomads last won a cup in 2018 when they clinched the Fisd Challenge Cup.
Bullets coach Callisto Pasuwa said preparations have gone on well.
He said: “We have been training well and the guys are eager to go. There were some areas that we have been working on, especially the defence where we have been having problems at times.
“Being a cup game where you don’t need a draw you just need a result that will take you through, we will throw everything to come out with a result.”
“These are big matches where you get one chance and you bury it, that’s one area we have been working on.”
The Zimbabwean tactician said he is not under pressure going into this match.
“But we need to have the right frame of mind, we need to have a technique of getting goals,” he said.
Wanderers coach Bob Mpinganjira was not available for comment while his assistant Albert, told Weekend Nation that only the head coach is allowed to grant interviews to the media.
However, reacting to the semi-final draw last week, Bob said they would prepare thoroughly for the match.
He said: “A derby is always difficult because there are several things that come into play, especially pride and tension.
“But we will prepare for it and we ask our fans to rally behind their team.”
Bullets are tipped to use an attacking 4-3-3 formation with the tournament’s leading scorer Babatunde Adepoju partnering Chiukepo Msowoya and Mischeck Selemani upfront.
The lanky Nigerian forward will be looking forward to continue with his rich vein of form against his former team.
Chimwemwe Idana, who has greased Bullets’ wheels of industry all season, will run the engine room aided by Henry Kabichi and Ernest Petro while Sankhani Mkandawire and Nixon Nyasulu will mesh as centre backs with Eric Kawonga and Gomezgani Chirwa featuring as wing defenders.
As for the Nomads, William Thole, is tipped to guard the posts while Stanley Sanudi, Yunus Shariff, Ted Sumani and Peter Cholopi will form the rear guard.
Captain Alfred Manyozo Jnr, Vitumbiko Kumwenda, Felix Zulu and Yamikani Chester will orchestrate play in midfield while Vincent Nyangulu could parner Wisdom Mpinganjira in attack.
To qualify for the semis, Bullets booted out Mafco 5-2 on aggregate with four of the goals coming from Adepoju while Wanderers defeated Moyale Barracks 5-4 on post-match penalties after tying one-all on aggregate.