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Opponents watch: Bullets vs Silver | Castel Challenge Cup final

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FCB Nyasa Big Bullets face Silver Strikers in the 2023 Castel Challenge Cup final at the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe on Saturday.

The Central Bankers’ dream of making it to another cup final came to an end on Tuesday afternoon after they gave away a lead a 1-0 lead late in the second half to lose 3-1 on penalties to Mafco FC in the Airtel Top 8 semis.

Now, unless they win on Saturday against The People’s Team in the inaugural Castel Challenge Cup, Pieter De Jhong’s men risk finishing the 2023 season without any silverware.

With this in mind, what can we expect from them at Bingu National Stadium on Saturday? Let’s take a look at our opponents.

The Bankers were one of the two teams from the Central Region to have been seeded, and this saw them starting their campaign in the round of 32.

They faced St. Gabriel Zitha and thumped the Premier Division side 5-0 to reach the next round.

In the round of 16, De Jhong’s men were in another demolition mood as they thrashed Ekwendeni United 7-1 to advance to the last eight.

Their ultimate challenge was against Blue Eagles in the quarter-finals at BNS. The Area 47 side passed the test convincingly, beating their opponents 4-2 to set up a semifinal showdown against Bangwe All Stars I Blantyre where they won 2-0 to reach the final.

On Saturday, Silver will be facing a side that is seeking to win a quadruple this season. Bullets have already won the TNM Super League and the FDH Bank Cup and are also in the Airtel Top 8 Cup final where they will face Mafco FC.

Silver’s style of play under De Jhong

Under the Dutch manager, Silver’s in-possession approach this season was top-notch. The TNM Super League runners-up relied heavily on Chimwemwe Idana, Chikondi Kamanga and Patrick Macheso to attack from deep.

While there is still a reliance on counters, it is fair to say that De Jhong has, on several occasions, attempted to evolve his side’s style of play somewhat.

Starting in a base of 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 shape, Silver’s buildup patterns have varied, but in recent matches, De Jhong has settled on 4-3-3 by overloading his midfield and moving Idana too close to the strikers.

In terms of building from the back, the Bankers emphasize more on structuring his side’s play from Pilirani Mapira, who is now a regular shot-stopper after taking over from Charles Thom. The former Mighty Mukuru Wanderers goalkeeper is certainly a capable ball player as he can find his centre and full-backs with precise passes in the buildup.

The sky-blue side of Lilongwe has prioritized playing in the midfield where they have ball players in Idana, Kamanga, and sometimes, Macheso, depending on the formation they use on a particular day.

Centre-backs step into the midfield to drag an opponent away and this movement creates a passing lane in the middle of the park for De Jhong’s men as Idana moves forward with pace and precision to combine with either Macheso or Tatenda M’balaka, who always make dangerous runs into the wide areas of opposition’s penalty area and unlock the opponents’ defensive wall to pounce.

Winning second balls

The simplicity behind Silver’s dominance has everything to do with Kamanga. While he is limited technically, his combative presence has been useful in De Jhong’s current tactical setup.

His physicality has seen the midfielder winning important balls and taking full charge of the midfield.

Kamanga’s influence in buildup is minimal, but his ability to battle opponents does partly explain why he is one of the players to have recorded the highest number of turnovers on the domestic scene.

In addition, his ability to make runs when in possession, and ghost into space in and around the opposition’s area, is excellent and this allows Idana and Macheso to be more offensive and aggressive in front of the goal.

How Bullets could capitalise on Silver’s approach

When it comes to transition-based attacks, Kalisto Pasuwa’s charges are the best. Recent games against Mighty Mukuru Wanderers, Silver (in the league), Ekwendeni Hammers, Mafco (in the FDH Bank Cup final) and Blue Eagles, stand out in particular, as the pace of Lanjesi Nkhoma and Patrick Mwaungulu caused these teams huge problems.

Against De Jhong’s men on Saturday, Bullets’ opportunities could come in the moments where the Bankers lose possession of the ball, as their tendency to build up with just one midfielder can leave lots of central space for teams to transition into.

Yankho Singo, who has established his place in Pasuwa’s starting XI, could be crucial in this regard, as he is good at man-marking, covering his position and advancing into the opponents’ half.

When the two teams met earlier in the league, Idana, who joined Silver after leaving Bullets in January, failed to press as he was pocketed by the rising holding midfielder. Perhaps he could help win the ball when Silver lost possession and then take advantage of the spaces created by Ernest Petro into the offensive zones.

Bullets could also take advantage of Silver’s tendency of man-marking in the rare moments whenever they are pressing high.

Men to watch

Big occasions call for big players, and the visitors will be delighted to have Idana against his former side. He is very aggressive, has pace and can score from any position once given space.

Without any doubt, Idana will be the man to watch for the Central Bankers on Saturday afternoon.

Against Bangwe, he created the move that resulted in his goal after he combined well with Macheso before finding a shooting space inside the area.

During Silver’s defeat to Mafco in the Airtel Top 8 semi-final tie, he assisted Macheso with a beautiful through-ball that saw his partner smashing the ball home.

His partnership with Macheso is one of the deadliest on the local scene. The duo has more assists and has combined well for Silver’s 18 goals in the Castel Challenge Cup.

They also have Stain Davie. The forward is dangerous in the air and has scored in the last four games he was featured against Bullets.

Davie was Silver’s second top scorer in the league with nine goals and had more than seven assists in the just-ended league campaign.

The Bankers will also rely on their versatile left-back, M’balaka. The youngster is very flexible, has pace and is a master of making dangerous moves into the opposition half.

He can switch the ball at his convenience and can create spaces in between the opponents’ pockets. M’balaka, who was predominantly used in defensive midfield against Bangwe on Saturday, is quick with his left foot. He is one to watch if we are to have a smooth run in the afternoon.

How the Bankers have fared against Bullets in recent cup meetings

The last time they recorded a win over Bullets in a cup competition was in 2021 when they knocked Pasuwa’s charges out of the FDH Bank Cup at Silver Stadium where the tie ended 2-2 in normal time and Bullets lost 4-2 on penalties.

Before this, the Bankers have had three cup wins over The People’s Team as they knocked us out of the Fisd Cup twice, beating us 1-0 at Kamuzu Stadium in 2016, 4-3 on penalties in 2019 and 1-0 in 2017 in the two-legged Airtel Top 8.

Pasuwa’s men have had two straight cup wins over Saturday’s opposition. In 2021, Bullets defeated Silver 5-4 through spot kicks to win the Airtel Top 8 cup and the following season we won 3-1 to knock them out of the same cup in the semis.

How they have fared at BNS in cup finals

The Bankers have never lost any cup of the three cup finals they have played at the BNS. In 2017, they beat Wanderers 10-9 on penalties to become the first team to win the Airtel Top 8 cup.

In 2019, they also won the same cup after beating Karonga United 1-0 at the same venue.

Silver Strikers had another successful campaign in 2021 when they defeated Ekwendeni Hammers 2-0 to win the FDH Bank Cup at the same stadium where Bullets have triumphed twice and registered two defeats in domestic cup finals.

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