Nyasa Big Bullets face two-time winners Silver Strikers in the Airtel Top 8 semi-final tie at Kamuzu Stadium on Saturday.
The weekend clash promises to be an exciting encounter between these two teams that have a similar style of play.
As we count down to Saturday, here is what you need to know about Leo Mpulura’s side…
The Area 47 Bankers are the current kings of the Airtel Top 8, having won it twice. They won the cup in its inaugural season in 2017 when they defeated Mighty Mukuru Wanderers 10-9 on penalties at the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe.
Silver failed to defend the title a year later when they got eliminated in the quarter-finals in a campaign won by Blue Eagles, who defeated Bullets 1-0 through Stuart Mbunge’s spot kick in the last minutes of the match at the BNS.
However, the Bankers reclaimed the trophy in 2019 after they got the better of Karonga United with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at the same facility, which they made a no-go zone for any visiting side.
But in the 2020/21 season, they lost to Bullets 5-4 on penalties in the final, which was played at Kamuzu Stadium for the first time since its inspection in 2017.
Twelve months down the line the two teams meet again, but in the semis, where the winner will advance to the final to be played at the BNS on the 17th of December 2022.
Currently, the Area 47-based side is in the hands of caretaker coach Leo Mpulura, who was put in charge soon after they parted ways with Zambian Daniel Kabwe, who was relieved of his post following a series of poor results that saw Silver missing out on the TNM Super League and the FDH Bank Cup.
Since his appointment, Mpulura and his assistant Edson Kadenge Mwafulirwa have turned the tables with impressive performances in the final league games and are now in the Airtel Top 8 semis.
He successfully registered three straight league wins over Kamuzu Barracks, Moyale Barracks and Mafco.
In the Airtel Top 8, he was held to a 1-1 draw to Kamuzu Barracks in a match played at Chitowe in Dwangwa, but won the reverse fixture 2-0 at Champion Stadium in Mponera last Sunday to set up the semi-final showdown against Bullets.
The Bankers have assembled one of the youngest squads in domestic football, with an average age of 23. Left-back Tatenda M’balaka, attackers Patrick Macheso and Zebron Kalima, and goalkeeper Emmas Nyirenda are some exciting new faces at Area 47. When the two teams met in the Super League in September, Bullets were second best as the opposition kept possession with their fast and pressing football architected by the youngsters.
Currently, Mpulura has two first-team goalkeepers, Charles Thom and Steve Micheta, on the sidelines due to injuries, hence picking Nyirenda and Charles Chisale from Silver Reserves.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams in this competition. In 2017, they met for the first time at BNS in which Bullets lost 1-0 in the quarter-final first leg and the Bankers went on to advance to the semifinals after holding The People’s Team to a goalless draw at Mulanje Park.
The third meeting was in the 2020/21 campaign in which Bullets, after a 1-1 result in the regulation time at Kamuzu Stadium, beat their opponents 5-4 on penalties to win their first-ever Airtel Top 8 Cup.
This term, Bullets have won the TNM Super League championship, while Silver finished fifth in the standings and failed to defend FDH Bank Cup won by Kalisto Pasuwa’s men, who are eyeing a treble.
Earlier this year, Bullets beat Silver Strikers 1-0 to win their sixth successive Charity Shield, 3-1 in the Super League at home and drew 2-2 in the second round away in Lilongwe.