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Match preview: MAFCO vs Bullets | Airtel Top 8 Final

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FCB Nyasa Big Bullets wrap up the extended 2023 season when they face Mafco FC in the final of the Airtel Top 8 at the Kamuzu Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Bullets are looking to complete their first quadruple since 1973, having already won the TNM Super League, FDH Bank Cup and the Castel Challenge Cup.

On top of these three major trophies, The People’s Team this year also clinched the NBS Bank Charity Shield for a record fifth time as well as the Kamuzu Cup.

However, Kalisto Pasuwa’s charges will face a very charged side eager to make amends for their 3-0 thumping at the hands of the Malawi champions in the FDH Cup final in October.

Form Guide

A win on Saturday will mean a second Airtel Top 8 Cup final triumph for Bullets, who become the first team to play the final of the competition four times since it was launched in 2017.

Pasuwa’s side first reached the final of the cup in 2018 and suffered a painful 1-0 loss to Blue Eagles who were awarded a controversial penalty kick in dying minutes at the Bingu National Stadium.

In 2021, they faced Silver Strikers for the top prize. It took penalties for The People’s Team to claim the title for the first time, beating the Bankers 5-4 following a 1-1 stalemate in the normal time at Kamuzu Stadium.

In 2022, Bullets failed to defend the cup after losing 5-4 on spot kicks to rivals Mighty Mukuru Wanderers.

They go into Saturday’s match straight from their Castel Challenge Cup victory over Silver to claim their first treble since 2002.

As for their opponents, this will be their first final in this competition, having been knocked out in the quarter-finals for two consecutive seasons.

In 2021, they lost to Bullets 5-2 on aggregate in the two-legged quarter-final tie before losing 4-0 to Wanderers at the same stage on aggregate.

It will be their second cup final appearance in the 2023 season after they faced Bullets in the FDH Bank Cup.

It will be MAFCO’s fourth cup final appearance in 12 years, having lost 1-0 to Wanderers in the then Presidential Cup final in 2011 before winning the cup in 2013 following their 10-9 victory over Silver at Civo Stadium.

They go into this match against The People’s Team with confidence after they eliminated the Central Bankers 3-1 on penalties to book their spot in the final.

Head-to-Head 

This will be the sixth knockout encounter between the two teams in the last 14 years.

Bullets and Mafco first met in 2011 in the Standard Bank Cup quarter-final tie and The People’s Team lost 3-1 on penalties following a 1-1 result in regulation time.

We met again in the 2015 season in the Carlsberg Cup semi-final at Civo Stadium.

Maurice Chiumia scored in the first half before Jafali Chande’s second-half equaliser to take the game to penalties.

Vincent Gona stopped Martin Masoatheka’s spot kick, handing Dalitso Sailesi the responsibility of condemning Mafco. The winger made no mistake as he sent Bullets fans into wild celebrations.

Our next meeting was in 2016 in the same competition at the same venue.

Initially, the quarterfinal match was supposed to be played at Chitowe in Dwangwa, but the Football Association of Malawi moved the fixture to Lilongwe after an alleged attack on Bullets players by some Mafco.

Saidi Mtekama scored the only goal to knock Bullets out of the cup through a very powerful header originated from a throw-in that was flicked to the goal scorer by Bernard Harawa.

In 2021, Bullets and Mafco met again for a place in the semi-finals of the Airtel Top 8.

The first leg ended 3-1 in favour of Bullets through a Babatunde Adepoju brace and a lone strike from Hassan Kajoke at Kamuzu Stadium.

In the return leg at Chitowe, Paul Phiri gave Mafco a first-half lead to reduce the arrears, but with less than ten minutes left to play, Adepoju scored twice to inspire Bullets to a hard-fought 2-1 win, advancing to the semis with a 5-2 aggregate win.

Recently, we met in the final of the FDH Bank Cup at Bingu National Stadium in October when Pasuwa’s men thrashed the Salima soldiers 3-0 through Lanjesi Nkhoma’s first-half brace and Ephraim Kondowe’s strike in the final period.

Team News

Blessings Mpokera will miss the 2023 Airtel Top 8 final as he serves his ban after picking up a second yellow card in the semifinals against Blue Eagles.

Midfielder Frank Willard, goalkeeper Richard Chimbamba as well as defenders Alick Lungu, Kesten Simbi and Precious Sambani, will not be part of the match as they are currently recovering from their injuries.

Chimbamba suffered a concussion during our win over Silver in the Castel Challenge Cup final last Saturday.

Our opponents have a full squad ready to face the Champions of Malawi in Blantyre.

Ernest Tambe and Yohane Malunga, who were not part of the FDH Bank Cup final due to injury and suspension, respectively, will be expected to play their role on Saturday.

What Pasuwa said ahead of the match

“MAFCO [is] a side we can’t underrate. We once played them in the league the other year, and we lost. We have also faced them several times at Kamuzu Stadium where they always display good football. They are very aggressive, very good at counterattack football, and at times, they can keep possession.

One area that is very important for us is to avoid complacency. In our camp, we are mainly worried about complacency. You can see the mood of the boys where they think it’s already done, but in football, you can’t be doing that. You only talk when the game is finished.

I am one person who believes that if one person has two legs just like me, you can’t say I am going to win before you play. You play first and see how one will fare by the end of the match, hence the need to be very accurate in terms of our attacking prowess, capitalize on the few chances you create so that you bury the game.

We have youngsters in the team, and teaching them is not easy. You teach them today, and tomorrow, they do the complete opposite of what you taught them. As a coach, we keep on teaching them. They can surprise you today by scoring plenty of goals, and next thing, they miss chances, so we need to have patience because they are still learning.

You can see them creating a chance, and they have a teammate in a better position to tap into the net. They will try to do something funny, and we end up missing. We need to stay positive, have patience and continue teaching them.

It’s history for them [Bullets] to create [winning a quadruple this season]. I have been talking to them since the start of the season to behave, to be disciplined and also to be positive in whatever they do because you never know what happens in life.

Look where we are today, we have won three of the four competitions in Malawi, and this is possible through some of the approaches they take when playing matches.”

How to follow the game

The Airtel Top 8 final on Saturday will kick off at 14h30 and action will be live on Mpira TV. Alternatively, you can catch all the match updates on our Facebook and Twitter channels.

Match officials

Referee: Mayamiko Kanjere

Assistant Referee 1: Evans Msonda

Assistant Referee 2: Pondamali Tembo

Fourth Official: Rose Zimba

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