Nyasa Big Bullets will be at home against Simba SC in the TotalEnergies Champions League preliminary first-round qualifier at Bingu National Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The fixture will see The People’s Team returning to Africa’s biggest club competition for the second time in a row after they were eliminated by Amazulu FC in the same stage last season, losing 3-1 at home after they won the first leg 1-0 in South Africa.
Kalisto Pasuwa’s side will be facing a team which is currently searching for a breakthrough in the Champions League having reached the quarterfinals of the CAF Confederations Cup before being knocked out by Orlando Pirates last season.
Both teams are in action in their respective domestic leagues. The People’s Team has a 12-point gap over the second-placed Blue Eagles in the TNM Super League whilst Simba SC is topping the standings in the Tanzanian Premier League with 7 points from three games.
Bullets, unbeaten in the current season in all competitions, are coming from a convincing 8-0 win over TN Stars in the league.
As for their opponents, they opened their league campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win over Mtibwa Sugar before recording a 2-0 victory over Geita Gold.
On Wednesday, they played to a 2-2 draw with Kinondoni FC in the Tanzanian Premier League.
But they have had a mixture of results in the friendly matches they played in readiness for this forthcoming tie.
They lost 1-0 to both Arta Solar and Al Hilal before beating Asante Kotoko 3-1.
As for Bullets, they haven’t played any strength testing match but they have been more active in the domestic competitions, scoring 22 goals in the process and conceding eight.
From the last five games, Bullets have had two draws and four wins, the recent one being their emphatic 8-0 hammering of the Kasungu-based side a week ago.
On the other hand, Simba SC registered two wins, two defeats and one draw in the five matches they have played, including the friendly games.
This fixture arrives with the Malawi champions enjoying top form and they will be hoping to take their unbeaten run into this important international match.
In CAF Champions League appearances, both teams haven’t reached where they would want to reach to be amongst Africa’s top football clubs.
Bullets’ highest continental success was their achievement in the 2004/05 campaign when they reached the group stages and missed out on a place in the last 8 after they failed to beat Enyimba FC at Kamuzu Stadium.
In the three attempts, Pasuwa’s side was knocked out of the competition in the first preliminary stages by Kenya’s Gor Mahia in 2018, Zimbabwe’s Platinum FC in 2019 and South Africa’s Amazulu FC in 2021.
As for their opponents, the highest continental success that Simba has reached is the final of the CAF Champions League Cup in 1993, when they lost to Stella Club of Côte d’Ivoire. It was the highest continental achievement by a Tanzanian team to date. In 2003, Simba beat the then-reigning champions Zamalek of Egypt in the Champions League second round of qualifiers to qualify to the group stages, after having beat Santos of South Africa in the first round.
History between these two sides only stretches back to a friendly match which was played at the Benjamin Mkapa Stadium in Tanzania in 2018, which ended goalless, but there has never been any competitive match between Nyasa Big Bullets and Simba SC.
Bullets look to have overcome the spate of injuries that dogged the squad in the past weeks during the busy period in which the club had more than five games in four weeks.
Babatunde Adepoju, Frank Willard, Precious Sambani, Precious Phiri and Isaac Badu have all recovered from their injuries and are ready to face Simba SC in this continental club competition.
This bodes well for the team amid a busy period which will see them hosting Simba SC before travelling to Tanzania for the return leg and then proceeding to Lilongwe again for a semifinal showdown with rivals Mighty Mukuru Wanderers in the FDH Bank Cup.
Players to Watch
Patrick Mwaungulu (Bullets): The winger has been involved in a number of crucial moments for the club throughout the season and his impact is evident in his stats, with six goals and eight assists in the top flight league.
He has had a hand in eleven of Bullets’ last 22 goals and will look to add to that tally at home against the Tanzanian side.
Against TN Stars, he registered a goal plus six assists to his name, making him the only player with more than 14 assists in his maiden season after earning a promotion from Bullets Reserves.
Pape Ousmane Sakho (Simba): The 25-year-old Senegalese international is Simba SC’s dangerous man in the field of play.
He has one goal in the CAF Champions League and two in the CAF Confederations Cup. The attacker has the pace, skill and experience to make things easy for fellow attackers with his ability to create spaces and advance into the enemy territory. If left unmarked, Bullets will be tormented to the core as this skilled forward has what it takes to destroy his opponents without mercy and without remorse. He is definitely to be a key figure for the visitors.
Head coach interview
Pasuwa believes the ‘home advantage’ thing doesn’t work in football, saying had it been it works, Amazulu FC shouldn’t have knocked them out last time at their own backyard.
“In football, this home advantage thing doesn’t work because it’s about how you approach the game as a team. You play at home you defend instead of attacking and that’s like playing away from home, so it’s how you approach the game. Had it been a home advantage works in football, we wouldn’t have lost to Amazulu FC here at home, so it’s just how you play.”
The tactician, who will see his side playing in front of thousands of its supporters after they failed to do so due to Covid-19 restrictions last year, lauded the presence of the 12th player, saying it’s always good to play such crucial matches in front of the supporters who have played a very big role in the team’s success.
“It’s a boost to have our fans available for this match. Last season, we faced Amazulu FC without them but now they are allowed to watch the youngsters playing beautiful football in unfamiliar territory. We needed them last year when we played here and we still need them because they play a very important role in our success.”
Pasuwa, who will be hoping to break the jinx of exiting the competition in the first preliminary round, is hoping for a good ride, saying it’s always exciting to be part of teams playing in this biggest club competition.
“We feel good to be part of the Champions League as you know I have been saying the moment we participate in this competition we see football at a different level where the youngsters who are coming up also to see how football is all about.”