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Battle for first-round honours

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In terms of a blue kit, attacking football, loads of experience, depth in quality and youth exuberance, expensively-assembled Silver Strikers and Be Forward Wanderers have that in abundance.

So, what is likely to separate the two domestic football gladiators when they go toe to toe tomorrow in a TNM Super League first-round decider scheduled for Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe?

Without giving away too much, Wanderers Coach, Yasin Osman, offered some hints.

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“Obviously, the team with better quality will prevail. It might come down to individual quality. You would also expect that we will watch each other in the first 15 minutes and thereafter, make necessary adjustments,” he said.

“We have been looking forward to this game. Silver is a quality team which plays a passing game just like us. Both of us are also pushing for the title.”

Silver Team Manager, Francis Songo, said they were determined to engage the Nomads in this battle for first-round honours.

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“We expect this to be a cracker in terms of both teams playing good football. I would not call this one of the toughest games for us. The Lilongwe derby was, because we were without some key players due to injuries. Now we have a full house,” he said.

In the last three weeks, Wanderers and Silver have taken turns on the driving seat of the 16-member log table with the Nomads bouncing back to the throne after a 1-0 win over Mzuni at Mzuzu Stadium last Sunday.

Silver went on top the previous week after seeing off Civil Sporting Club 2-1 in a Lilongwe derby that many, unfoundedly, feared could soil the Bankers’ unbeaten run.

So going into this clash, Wanderers lead with 34 points from 14 games, two points ahead of Silver. The Bankers’ unbeaten run is only undermined by four draws compared to none for the Nomads.

Wanderers have won 12 games and lost twice to Nyasa Big Bullets and Civil whereas Silver drew against teams such as Azam Tigers and Premier Bet Wizards.

Therefore, a draw tomorrow will only serve to preserve the two-point advantage which Wanderers hold over Silver.

On the other hand a win will see the Nomads wind up the opening round five points clear of Silver.

For Silver, a win will see them climb one point clear. Songo believes they have already exceeded expectations this season.

“Our target was to reach the 30-point mark and build from there in the second- round,” he said.

Never has the conclusion to the first-round been so unpredictable.

There is no doubt that tomorrow’s game will be decided by small details.

Both teams have depth and experience. Wanderers’ Richard Chipuwa, Lucky Malata, Harry Nyirenda, Joseph Kamwendo, Jafali Chande, Peter Wadabwa and Captain Francis Mlimbika are quality players who can walk into starting XIs of most local clubs.

Mlimbika is aware of the importance of the game, saying: “This is a game that would shape our pursuit of the title. We need a win so as to go into the second-round in a positive frame of mind.”

However, Wanderers will be without Jabulani Linje and Stanley Sanudi who are with the national team in Morocco for friendlies whereas Alfred Mayozo junior remains suspended.

In the other camp, Timothy Chitedze, Green Harawa, Thuso Paipi, Chisomo Mpachika, Duncan Nyoni, Young Chimodzi Junior, Victor Limbani and Blessings Tembo offer a blend of quality and experience.

Having lost in the Carlsberg Cup final to Wanderers last season through post-match penalties, Silver got their revenge this campaign after defeating the Nomads also through penalty lotteries to win the inaugural Airtel Top 8 Cup.

In that final, the two teams matched pound for pound. It took Manyozo’s decisive penalty miss to hand Silver the inaugural cup.

Historically, until a decade ago, Wanderers were the second highest league winners, only for Silver to overtake them with eight titles.

The Nomads have won it five times whereas Bullets’ haul of championships is an unparalleled 13.

It is all due to the 10-year championship drought that has haunted Wanderers since they won it under the tutorship of Zimbabwean mentor Rahman Gumbo.

Wanderers last won the Super League gold in 2006 whereas Silver last claimed it 2013.

Since that year, Wanderers have held on firmly to their tag as cup specialists. But no amount of silverware can compare to a league title.

Osman, having led Wanderers to Fisd Challenge Cup triumph last season, has, this season, steered the Nomads to the second cup final this season.

The Nomads will meet Bullets in the Carlsberg Cup final on September 9 in Lilongwe.

But even if Wanderers retain both cups, only winning the league title would convince the blue side of town that they are indeed back among the elites of domestic football.

Silver have Airtel Cup in the bag but they have not hidden the fact that they are yearning for the league championship.

On another front, Silver have an unbeaten league record to preserve going into the battle against Wanderers. Silver will defend it jealously, according to Songo.

“We have an unbeaten run to preserve. Surely, we cannot let Wanderers be the first ones to end it,” Songo said.

Osman responded: “Silver are undefeated in the league and someone has to try and break that record. We are in a better position to do that.”

Can Wanderers manage to do what revived Civil, Bullets and Kamuzu Barracks failed— ending the Reserve Bank of Malawi side’s unbeaten stretch?

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