Be Forward Wanderers took a firm step towards protecting their reputation as cup specialists when they beat Azam Tigers 2-0 in the first leg of their Airtel Top 8 quarter-final at Balaka Stadium.
In another quarter-final encounter, Kamuzu Barracks (KB) thumped Blue Eagles 4-2 at Civo Stadium in Lilongwe.
It took the Nomads 75 minutes to unlock Azam Tigers defence. The goal was a product of winger Felix Zulu’s brilliance who exploded on the right flank, rounded off Tigers left back Nickson Mwase and delivered a searching cross that picked the blind side of wizard Jaffalie Chande whose calm and composed header bounced between ‘keeper William Thole’s legs.
Then in the 82nd minute man-of-the-match Joseph Kamwendo’s long range low shot outside the 18-yard box confused Thole who only saw the ball bouncing from the right pole before settling at the opposite angle.
It was game over for the resilient Kau-Kau Boys who defended meticulously throughout the first half, frustrating the Nomads who struggled to put the ball on the ground.
Though Tigers were good in their half thanks to Martin Tchongwe, Dan Kumwenda, Peter Katsonga and Precious Phiri, who matched Wanderers midfield pound-for-pound, going into the last half proved tough for the Tigers.
Wanderers were forced to make technical changes following injuries. Foster Namwela replaced Lucky Malata while Francis Mulimbika paved the way for Ted Sumani.
Tigers finished the match with 10 men after Mwase was red-carded for protesting violently Jabulani Linje’s decision to score after the referee blew for an off side.
Tigers coach Patricio Kulemeka said: “We gave them so much respect and gifted them the goals. We must accept Wanderers had to win. They played well. We will work on the shortfalls and prepare for the second leg.”
Surprisingly, Wanderers coach Yasin Osman said he was not satisfied with his team’s performance.
”We have scored two goals, but our play was not good. We struggled a lot to play our usual game because of our opponents’ physical game and high balls,” he said.
At Civo Stadium, the contest was seemingly over in the last 20 minutes of the first half when KB netted four times as Eagles defence failed to cope with intense attacking bombardment.
Striker Diof Simaone opened the scoring in the 27th minute before Ndaona Daisi extended the lead in the 36th minute and a minute later Manase Chiyesa made it 3-0. It was a nightmare for goalkeeper John Soko.
There was still time for another goal when Kelvin Hanganda converted from a Harvey Nkacha pinpoint cross in the opening half’s final minute.
Eagles coach Audilow Makonyola introduced striker Mphatso Philemon and midfielder Phillip Masiye early in the second half. The change undoubtedly improved the team as it attacked with much purpose and defended with solidity.
They pulled one back via Philemon and in the 40th minute, his fellow substitute Masiye prodded home Eagles second to keep the tie alive, though goalkeeper Lemani Nthala should have done better to close him down.
It was too little too late for Eagles to crawl back into the match but their two away goals will most assuredly be crucial when the two sides clash again in the return match set for Nankhaka Ground.
Makonyola blamed their poor performance in the first half but praised his side for a spirited fight in the closing half.
“We had chances to score four in the second half but we were not sharp enough. Nonetheless, I am really pleased that we managed to reduce the score-line gap,” he said. “I am optimistic we will overturn the tables in the return fixture.”
His Kamuzu Barracks counterpart Billy Phambala admitted that their opponents destabalised his side after upping the gear.
“They improved significantly and the two goals have given them a new lease. Nonetheless, I am optimistic we will finish the job in the second leg,” he said. n