At the beginning they were eight, then down to four and now only two are left to battle for Airtel money.
The battle lines have been drawn as Be Forward Wanderers engage Silver Strikers this afternoon in the inaugural Airtel Top 8 final—an epic confrontation, a classic contest that is expected to shred the nerves of the fans—and the setting cannot be any better than the majestic Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe.
At stake is K15 million ultimate prize with the losing team getting K10 million less as consolation.
This is it. The journey that started with the quarter-finals on May 13 will be defined this afternoon. Let’s get ready to rumble!
Statistically, the odds appear to swing the Nomads way as they have won four of the five past final showdowns against the Bankers. The immediate past showdown was last year in the Carlsberg Cup which was decided through the lottery penalty shoot-out after they played out a one-all draw in regulation time.
The Nomads also bask in the glory of being inaugural tournament winners. They were the first winners of the Chibuku Cup, Carlsberg Cup, FAM Cup (which changed to Standard Bank Cup), Presidential Cup and, more recently, the Fisd Challenge Cup.
That is not all. The Lali Lubani Road outfit also came out triumphant in both their last season’s TNM Super League encounters. They won 2-1 and 3-2 in the first and second round, respectively.
But such is the beauty of football that it doesn’t always go according to script and the Bankers believe this could be a turning point.
What the coaches and captains say
Silver captain Blessings Tembo and coach Lovemore Fazili believe this, could surely, be payback time.
Said Tembo: “We are the underdogs going into this match because we have played second fiddle to Wanderers in cup final matches for quite a while.
“But everything has its own time and we are determined to change the status quo. We do not want history to corrupt our minds that we are already defeated.
“We are going to take them head on and fight for every inch of the way. So, we are ready for them.”
On his part, Fazili also said records are there to be broken.
“This will be a different game altogether. We are looking forward to halting their tradition of being inaugural tournament winners.
“Our approach will be to attack more and I reckon it’s going to be an exciting match,” he said.
His Nomads counterpart Yasin ‘Titch’ Osman was a model of modesty, insisting they will not be clouded by their past remarkable run against the Bankers.
“We need to exercise a lot of caution because we are up against a formidable team.
“The fact that we have had an edge against them in cup finals or recent league matches is not a guarantee that we will come out victorious. It is not going to be easy and we will have to give it our best shot.
“Having said that, we are ready and I am pleased with the level of confidence, commitment and hunger shown by my players in the countdown to this match. I only hope they can carry the confidence through to the game,” he said.
The seasoned coach further said he expects an entertaining game “because we play the same type of pass-and-move football”.
“We are now just tying up the loose ends as we finalise our preparations and my final words are that may the best team win.”
His captain Francis’FM7’ Mlimbika said: “We are not underrating Silver, but when it gets to this point, we never look back because reaching the finals always gives us extra motivation. I just pray that the referees will take a firm line so that the deserving team should carry the day. Having said that, we urge all nyerere [Wanderers fans] to come and cheer us on because they are always our 12th player.”
Who are likely to make the difference?
Silver are known for their sweet-passing game—umodzi-umodzi ngati mpunga wa kilombelo—which is sweet to the eye and their potential match winners are wingers Tembo and youthful Thuso Paipi who are often used in their attacks through the flanks so as to supply balls upfront to Green Harawa and either Victor ‘Vibre’ Limbani or Binwell Katinji.
They are quick and incisive and their dexterity on the ball is matched only by the ferocity of their commitment.
On the other hand, Yamikani Chester—an extravagantly gifted playmaker with fancy footwork and assurance in possession—has been the Nomads’ subtle engine of late aided by the experienced cultured distribution of Joseph ‘Shakira’ Kamwendo. They also have blossoming winger Felix Zulu who surges forward with swashbuckling verve.
Upfront, the Nomads will look up to Khumbo Ng’ambi who turned on a magical display in the semi-finals against Moyale Barracks with a hat-trick that propelled his team into the finals when they showed characteristic grit to come from two goals down.
Their path to the finals
Silver beat Bullets 1-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals and then drew with Kamuzu Barracks 1-all to sail through on penalties 5-3 while the Nomads beat Azam Tigers 3-1 on aggregate in the last eight before ousting Moyale 3-2 in the semis. n