Never before in the history of Malawi football has a team smiled all the way to the bank K15 million richer just after victories in four matches, but thanks to Airtel Top 8, history is about to be re-written and the battle starts this afternoon.
With four mouth-watering first leg quarter-final fixtures lined up today and tomorrow, football enthusiasts are assured of an action-packed weekend.
But this afternoon the focus will be at Bingu National Stadium where Silver Strikers host Nyasa Big Bullets in the first leg of the quarter-final.
With wounds still festering on how the Bankers booted out The People’s Team in the Fisd Challenge Cup at the same stage of the competition at Kamuzu Stadium, revenge is in the air.
Bullets coach Nsanzurwimo Ramadhan was not there when this catastrophe befell his team.
As the then national football team assistant coach, he watched from the VIP enclosure as Bullets went down 1-0 to Silver.
But this afternoon he will sit on the technical area and the future of Bullets lies in his hands.
The coach admitted that he was under pressure after a poor start in the Super League, but says the goal is to win the cup at all costs.
“Airtel Top 8 is so unique because in four matches you can win K15 million. We play 30 games in Super League just to win K15 million,” he said.
The Burundian tactician admits that the first leg will be a tough one.
“Cup games are tricky and when we play Silver it is always a tough one. It can go either way. But the good thing is we are playing them away then at our home. So there is a chance of recovering,” said Ramadhan.
But his counterpart Lovemore Fazili knows that pretending to be underdogs is one of the oldest tricks in football and he expects Bullets to charge like wounded buffaloes.
“What happened last year is gone. This is another game altogether. We need to approach it as if we did not beat them at all last season,” said Fazili.
Technically, both sides have the capability of absorbing the pressure at such a big stage.
Ramadhan has maintained the squad that he took to Mzuzu where Bullets only managed to collect a point from two games.
Captain John Lanjesi, Yamikani Fodya, Pilirani Zonda, Emmanuel Zoya, George Nyirenda, Chimango Kaira, Kondwani Kumwenda, Dalitso Sailesi, McPhalen Ngwira, Henry Kabichi, Fischer Kondowe, Mike Mkwate, Bright Munthali, Diverson Mlozi, Bernard Chimaimba and Muhammad Sulumba are all available.
But Ramadhan kept his game tactics close to his chest on who he would start in the encounter.
“We have taken players that are capable of delivering; that is all I can say,” he said.
Fazili will likely maintain Brighton Munthali, Hygiene Mwandepeka, Chisomo Mpachika, Yinusa Sheriff, Young Chimodzi Jnr, Green Harawa, Matheews Sibale, Levison Maganizo, Binwell Katinji and Mike Tetteh.
Winger Duncan Nyoni and defender Mike Roberts are ruled out due to injuries.
Some 250 kilometres away from Lilongwe at Chitowe Stadium in Dwangwa, Nkhotakota, a battle between friendly forces Mafco FC and Moyale Barracks will take centre stage.
No fixture attracts more interest in Dwangwa than the battle between the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) sides as it is unpredictable since both play similar style of football.
Interestingly, last season, Mafco sent Moyale Barracks packing during the Carlsberg Cup after beating the Mzuzu-based outfit 2-1 at their backyard.
This time Moyale has promised to take the war at Mafco’s doorstep.
Coach Temwa Msuku said playing at home will not be an advantage since the two sides are cut from the same cloth and the quarter-finals are played on two legs.
“It does not matter that we are at home,” he said. “Next week it will be our turn to play away.”
Moyale team manager Richard Kapesa said it was time to revenge last year’s loss.
“They beat us at home last season. We can do the same. Since we are playing away, we need to beat them at their home and finish them off at ours,” said Kapesa.
The battles resume tomorrow with Be Forward Wanderers and Azam Tigers completing this weekend’s first leg action at Balaka Stadium while Lilongwe will host a derby between Kamuzu Barracks and Blue Eagles at Civo Stadium.