Finalists of the third edition of the Airtel Top 8 will be identified this weekend with three rank outsiders—Masters Security, Karonga United and Mzuni FC—in contention for the K15 million ultimate prize.
The three teams, which were rank outsiders, defied the odds to reach the last four of the competition in only their first appearance. Inaugural winners Silver Strikers complete the semi-finals line-up.
In the first final qualifying contest, Mzuni FC take on Karonga United this afternoon at Mzuzu Stadium while Silver and Masters will square off in the other semi-final tomorrow at Civo Stadium in Lilongwe.
Karonga coach Daniel Dzinkambani set on the mind games by declaring that they are underdogs going into this afternoon’s fixture as Mzuni will have homeground advantage.
“Mzuni are the favourites because they will be playing at home backed by home support, but we are not losing sleep with that and we are ready.
“We are only hoping that the match officials will take a firm line so that only the deserving team should emerge triumphant. Otherwise, bring them [Mzuni] on,” he said.
Added Dzinkambani: “We have had to punch beyond our weight to reach this far and as such, we are looking beyond today’s game. Our target is to reach the finals.”
His Mzuni counterpart Gilbert Chirwa said Karonga are unpredictable and they will exercise caution.
“It has not been a smooth ride to reach the semi-finals, but we are hungry for more. Being within touching distance from the finals has boosted our confidence levels.
“So, we are prepared for the match although Karonga can be unpredictable at times. We have come up with the right strategy for them,” he said.
Ironically, the two coaches were top players in the 1980s and 90s and played together in the national team.
Peter Mselema, Azizi Mwakifuna and Gule Mwaisope are Karonga United trump cards.
Mselema and Mwakifuna have scored two goals each in the TNM Super League so far, whereas as Mwaisope scored the away goal against TN Stars that propelled Ingwina ya Karonga to the last four.
In defence, Karonga will look up to the aerial prowess of Wakisa Mwenengube and the calmness of Pilirani Thuli who on a good day are capable of thwarting any attack.
On the other hand, Maxwell Gasteni carries the hopes for Mzuni FC. The fact that he has been voted man-of-the-match three times in the league this season, speaks volumes about his capabilities.
He has also scored three league goals and one in the Airtel Top 8.
Gasteni is tipped to mesh with Ramadan Ntafu, who has scored two league goals.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) competitions manager Gomezgani Zakazaka has since described the current edition as the most exciting.
“We are having the first ever semi-final in the North and it’s an all North teams’ encounter meaning at least one North team will be in the final for the first time.
“The absence of some big teams has given us a chance to take the tournament to areas we have never been before. This year we were in Kasungu, Dedza and Karonga for the first time and this helped us stage high-profile matches outside the big cities where the giants play,” he said.
“The hype in those areas was fantastic and that is a plus to us as it makes the Airtel Top 8 a true national cup and not just for the cities.”