FCB Nyasa Big Bullets kick off the 2023 Airtel Top 8 campaign with a quarterfinal first-leg match away to Civil Service United at Civo Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
The game comes two days after a 3-0 triumph over Mafco FC in the FDH Bank Cup final as The People’s Team retained the cup we won last season.
Almost a month after the two sides engaged in a thrilling TNM Super League clash at Kamuzu Stadium in which Bullets staged a stunning comeback to beat Civil 3-2, they are set to lock horns once more in the opening round of the Airtel Top 8.
With the return leg scheduled for later this month, Kalisto Pasuwa’s charges have to be at their level best to overcome a side desperate for honours, having last won a trophy in 2015.
Bullets, who were runners-up in the last edition, go into this match with their shoulders high following their FDH Bank Cup success last Sunday.
But before Sunday’s victory, the Malawi champions also registered a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Bangwe All-Stars in the Super League to make amends for the 4-0 defeat at the hands of DRC’s TP Mazembe in the CAF Champions League to miss out on a place in the group stage.
The result over Bangwe brought Bullets to within four points of current log leaders, Mighty Mukuru Wanderers, who have also played four games more than us.
As the focus now shifts to the Airtel Top 8, Pasuwa’s men face off against a side determined to create their own history after spending almost eight years since their Standard Bank Cup triumph over Wanderers.
In the current season, the Malawi Government-sponsored side is struggling for points as they lie in the bottom three with 25 points from 24 games.
This slump of form forced the team to make some changes to their technical panel as they brought in Abbas Makawa as an interim coach, replacing Oscar Kaunda.
Despite this, Civil registered two back-to-back 1-0 losses to Silver Strikers and Moyale Barracks, respectively.
However, they made amends with a comfortable 5-0 win over Mgwirizano FC in the Castel Challenge Cup round of 16.
The last encounter at Civo ended 1-1, with Bullets coming from behind to force a draw in the second half through Patrick Mwaungulu’s strike.
In the last decade, this will only be the second cup clash between these two sides, with the other one being the then Standard Bank Cup semifinal showdown in Blantyre in 2015. The Servants registered a memorable 2-1 win to boot Bullets out of the cup through a late second-half brace from Raphael Phiri, who cancelled out a first-half early strike from Chiukepo Msowoya.
In the last 16 Super League games, it’s only in the 2017, 2022 and 2023 seasons that Civil got three points over Bullets after sharing the spoils in the first and second rounds of those campaigns.
The latest defeat for Civil was a 3-2 loss at the hands of Bullets in August in a match in which the Lilongwe-based side had a comfortable 2-1 first-half lead overturned by The People’s Team.
Bullets will go into this match without several players due to injuries. The latest casualty is Kesten Simbi, who suffered a fractured metatarsal to his right foot during a training match on Monday. The centre-back will be out of action for a period of six weeks.
Midfielder Ernest Petro is also out after he suffered a knee injury when we played Bangwe All Stars in the league last week. Our number 10 will also be out of action for six weeks.
Alick Lungu, who has been inactive for months, has started his rehabilitation, and he is likely to return to full training next week when we return back to Blantyre from our Northern Region outing for TNM Super League fixtures.
Thomson Magombo sprained his ankle and needs further assessment, while Richard Chimbamba is a doubt after he injured his eye during the final training sessions ahead of the Civil tie.
Mike Mkwate remains out of action as he continues his recovery from the injury he suffered at the start of this season.
What Pasuwa said ahead of the match
“We have tried to teach the players to play each and every game as it comes. We played in the FDH Bank Cup, we won it and it’s finished. Then we need to concentrate on the next assignment, which is coming in the Airtel Top 8 quarterfinal first leg match against Civil.
“We have been playing them before in league matches, tightly contested matches, and we need not underrate them. We need everyone to be on his toes for us to get a result.”
How to follow the game
Our Airtel Top 8 quarter-final first-leg tie will be live on Mpira TV and will be streamed online on FIFA+ and Airtel TV mobile app. You can also catch all the match updates on our Facebook and Twitter channels.
Newton Nyirenda, who officiated our FDH Bank Cup semifinal clash against Dedza Dynamos at Kamuzu Stadium last month, has been tasked to handle our opening match of the 2023 Airtel Top 8 campaign against Civil Service United at the Civo Stadium.
Referee: Newton Nyirenda
Assistant Referee 1: Pius Pearson Kamanga
Assistant Referee 2: Christina Mkweu
Fourth Official: Charles Chimimba
Match Assessor: Ella Banda
Match Commissioner: Bernard Harawa