FCB Nyasa Big Bullets started the 2023/24 CAF Champions League campaign with a 2-0 victory away to Dragon FC at Estadio de Malabo in Equatorial Guinea on Sunday afternoon.
A first-half brace from Maxwell Phodo was enough to give The People’s Team a two-goal cushion going into the second leg of the first preliminary round to be played in Lilongwe in seven days.
Kalisto Pasuwa made five changes to the side that defeated Extreme FC in the TNM Super League back home last Sunday, with goalkeeper Richard Chimbamba replacing Clever Mkungula, while Nickson Nyasulu and Eric Kaonga paved the way for Clyde Senaji and Precious Sambani.
In midfield, Blessings Mpokera and Precious Phiri started in place of Chawanangwa Gumbo and Patrick Mwaungulu.
Bullets started on the front foot in the game played on natural grass as we settled well early in the half looking for an early goal.
The Malawi champions won a corner kick and Lanjesi Nkhoma’s beautiful delivery in the box met Phodo, who overpowered the opposition in the air to pounce and break the deadlock in the 7th minute, 0-1.
Our centre-forward, who was leading the attack with Phiri on the right and Nkhoma on the left, continued looking for more in the opening 15 minutes and had the flag up twice against him for offside.
Dragon, who struggled to penetrate the visitors’ attacking zone, managed to create space and break from the left flank but their weak attempt saw Chimbamba calmly stopping the effort in the 22nd minute.
A strong challenge on the opposition from Mpokera in the 28th minute saw the midfielder picking the first yellow card of the match.
Ernest Petro should have doubled our lead immediately after the half-hour mark when he was found by Chirwa on the edge of the box, however, the Bullets number 10 had his weak effort comfortably stopped by the home goalkeeper.
Phodo cushioned our advantage six minutes later after Bullets exchanged beautiful passes to weave into the penalty area to find the forward who opened fire to score his second goal of the CAF Champions League and give us a two-goal advantage away from home.
Pasuwa’s men were coming wave after wave in the hunt for another goal and Petro found his way into the area to set up Mpokera from the byline, unfortunately, the midfielder had his effort over the crossbar.
Bullets created another clear chance after Sambani was found by Nkhoma in the six-yard area only for the left-back to send his strike over the bar and that was all for the opening period, 0-2 in favour of the Malawi champions.
Pasuwa made a half-time substitution when he introduced Kaonga for our captain Sambani and the home side also made a change.
Dragon should have reduced the deficit early in the final half from a set piece but were denied by Chimbamba whose fine save got the ball away for a corner kick which we defended well to escape danger.
Bullets continued looking for another goal and Phiri broke loose at the stroke of the hour-mark and spotted the home goalkeeper out of his line but our right-wing forward’s effort was beautifully parried away for another corner kick which we failed to utilize.
A minute later, Phodo was denied an opportunity to get a hat trick and a third goal for us on the afternoon when he had the ball inside the net only to be judged for offside.
In the 67th minute, the home side made two changes before Pasuwa also responded as he withdrew Nkhoma for Mgwira and Mpokera for Gumbo two minutes later.
With 15 minutes left to play, Chimbamba picked our second yellow card of this campaign as he was deemed to delay play.
In the 78th minute, Phodo and Petro, who had picked up knocks, were replaced by Ephraim Kondowe and Kenneth Pasuwa.
Mgwira and Pasuwa had two chances in the final minutes when the former had an offside call against him when the only had the ‘keeper to beat while his fellow substitute had his effort coming from a freekick 35 yards from goal saved by the shot-stopper to concede a corner which the hosts managed to defend.
Five minutes of stoppage time were added to the clock and Bullets managed to defend their two first-half goals to go back home with a two-goal advantage going into the second leg of the first preliminary round at the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe on Sunday.