Nyasa Big Bullets registered an emphatic 3-1 win over MAFCO FC in the Airtel Top 8 quarter-final first leg at Kamuzu Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
This was the first meeting between the two sides in the competition and they did not disappoint as they delivered an entertaining encounter in front of the sizeable crowd at the Soccer Mecca.
Kalisto Pasuwa handed goalkeeper Ernest Kakhobwe his first start since January. Henry Kabichi was also deployed in the middle of the park as Bullets’ holding midfielder, replacing Chimango Kayira, who is recovering from an injury.
The People’s Team opened the scoring inside the opening two minutes as Hassan Kajoke was found unmarked by Gomezgani Chirwa inside the penalty box to smash the ball past Jailosi Kapalamula in goal for the visitors, 1-0.
Moments later, the Salima-based military side almost equalized when a cross from Zikhole Ngulube was missed by Nickson Nyasulu to find Zikani Sichinga in the 6-yard box, but the left winger’s header went over the bar.
In the 13th minute, another good delivery into the box by Ngulube nearly punished Bullets, but the attempt just missed Kakhobwe’s left goal post with an inch.
At the other end, Babatunde Adepoju made a brilliant run from the right and delivered a low cross to Lanjesi Nkhoma, who made a first-time connection but Kapalamula was very alert to rescue the from conceding another early goal.
Babatunde made another good run into the box only to be challenged by Kapalamula, who was quick to leave his line to prevent the forward from scoring.
In the 26th minute, Gomezgani Chirwa was the first player to go into Newton Nyirenda’s books when he received a yellow card for a bad foul on Sichinga.
The hosts had another chance in the 27th minute when Ngulube’s corner was cleared by Miracle Gabeya to Chimwemwe Idana, who made a good run inside MAFCO’s half and found Babatunde Adepoju to the left, but the striker was too slow to make a decision as his through ball pass to Nkhoma was cut short by Maurice Chiumia.
But despite the visitors’ resilience, Bullets doubled their tally in brilliant fashion just after the half-hour mark.
A long ball into the box was controlled by Kajoke, who just released Babatunde and the forward made a brilliant tap in to beat Kapalamula who could do nothing apart from watching the ball going slowly into the net, 2-0.
Two turned into three in another form of brilliance from the home team. In the 43rd minute, Kabichi won the ball in Bullets’ half before sending a long pass to his captain inside the center cycle and Idana capitalized on a failed offside trap by the visitors before he released Babatunde, who made a simple finish past the defenseless Kapalamula to send the whole stadium into frenzy, 3-0 and that was all for the opening half.
In the second half, Bullets’ pace was neutralized by the visitors, who were now always first on the ball and they should have found their first goal in the second minute of the half when a well taken corner kick found Joseph Donsa, but the forward sent his effort off Kakhobwe’s goal.
In the 54th minute, Chiumia lost possession to Nkhoma and the youngster was on course to registering his name on the scoresheet, he was however brought down by Ngulube, who was yellow carded by Nyirenda. Kabichi failed to make good use of the setpiece as he sent his effort close to the edge of the penalty area over the crossbar.
The visitors made a double substitution in the 56th minute when they brought on Paul Phiri and Walusungu Mpata for Donsa and Stain Malata.
And in the 62nd minute, Kakhobwe rose to the occasion with a brilliant save from close range to deny Mpata a chance to reduce the deficit.
The visitors where now causing more havoc, but beating Kakhobwe proved to be a very difficult task as he was commanding his defence very well and was also good in the air.
Pasuwa had to introduce Stanley Billiat and McFallen Mgwira for Babatunde and Nkhoma in the 66th minute to try to increase his team’s attacking options in search for more goals.
But it was MAFCO who had an edge as they kept creating chances, the latest being Ngulube’s long range effort that went over the bar.
In 71st minute, Kakhobwe was at it again with a brilliant save from Ngulube’s freekick.
Mgwira picked a yellow card in the 76th minute after stamping his foot on Dan Chimbalanga.
Pasuwa made another change in the 79th minute when he introduced Paul Kansungwi for Ernest Petro, whilst Martin Masoatheka and Peter Kansonga came on for Blessings Phiri and Sichinga.
Idana should have completely dashed MAFCO’s hopes for a comeback when his short inside the 18-yard box in the 80th minute managed to beat Kapalamula but not the post in unbelievable circumstances.
Anthony Mfune replaced Kajoke in the 83rd minute whilst both Gabeya and Mpata were yellow carded for an off the field incident.
And moments later, the very same post that denied Idana from scoring came to MAFCO’s rescue in the 85th minute when he was found by Mfune before making a first time connection which hit the bar.
With less than a minute to go in stoppage time, the visitors pulled one back.
Bullets defence allowed Mpata to make his way into the box before shooting at goal only for the ball to hit the upright and landed in the path of Masoatheka, who made a simple finish to reduce the arrears to 3-1.
“It was a game we dominated from the onset and we dominated the midfield and [we] very offensive in terms of attack where we had many chances to kill off the game but we only scored thrice.
“We dropped in the second half as our opponents pressed in search for goals, but not bad, we have a 3-1 lead heading into the second leg away at MAFCO and we will not drop back at Chitowe, we will attack in order to win the match,” said the Bullets head coach.