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Big Bullets through

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Mercurial attacking midfielder Mike Mkwate pulled Nyasa Big Bullets from the depth of despair as they staged a late comeback to see off Kamuzu Barracks (KB) 5-3 on post-match penalties in a tense Carlsberg Cup round-of-16 duel at Chilomoni Stadium, Blantyre yesterday.

Bullets are through to the quarter-finals.

Mkwate snatched a late leveller, from the edge of the 18-yard box, volleying against the bar, past KB goalkeeper Lemani Nthala’s desperate palm then into the net—just when the soldiers thought they had the game sewn in the bag following Harvey Nkacha’s 67th minute acrobatic goal.

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Mkwate’s equaliser paved way for penalty lotteries that saw Bullets convert through Chiukepo Msowoya, Bright Munthali, Emmanuel Zoya, Pilirani Zonda and Yamikani Fodya.

KB scored from the dreaded spot through World Nkuliwa, Nangaunozge Luhanga and Pempho Kansichiri, only for nervous Sammy Chiponda to send his spot kick wide. Bullets were through to the quarter-finals and the red party began right on the pitch.

During regulation time, both teams matched pound-for-pound, but Bullets had a slight upper hand. The hosts visited KB’s territory, but overlapping left-back Fodya and Mussa Manyenje’s deliveries from the flanks failed to trouble Nthala and Pilirani Makupe-led defence.

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Bullets interim Coach, Elia Kananji, made some surprise changes to the starting XI with former Mzuni custodian Labson Chiyenda given a rare run between the sticks whereas Zoya manned the central defence—and he looked inspired clearing and intercepting all KB’s killer passes.

Save for Manyenje’s long range diagonal shot, which needed Nthala’s finger-tip save, the first half ended with Bullets attacking and KB soaking up the pressure.

In the second half, Munthali seemed inspired as he stretched KB’s defence with his runs and turns, but his finishing let him down. In one moment, Munthali zig-zagged his way past markers on the left but skied his shot. Earlier, the former Azam Tigers striker sent his effort crashing against the bar.

Bullets were soon trailing as a poorly cleared ball from the right granted Nkacha acres of space and he obliged by sending his overhead kick into the net. Bullets players reacted by dropping their heads but Mkwate took it upon to urge his colleagues on.

Then Fodya tried to fashion an equaliser by whipping a dangerous low ball across KB’s goal-mouth but Nkuliwa swept the ball away to safety.

Kananji pulled defender Miracle Gabeya, Nelson Kangunje and Manyenje for Bashir Maunde, Collen Nkhulambe and Kondwani Kumwenda, respectively, who eventually hit the side-netting before Mkwate’s late volley and the subsequent penalties.

In a post-match interview, KB Coach, Billy Phambala, congratulated Bullets on reaching the quarter-finals.

“We were in control for the better part of the game but we allowed them to come back into the game. My charges gave it their all and in penalties, anything can happen,” Phambala said.

Kananji said: “When we were trailing, I told the guys that as long as 90 minutes was not over, there was no need to give up. It is mission accomplished. We look forward to the next game against Be Forward Wanderers.”

In other round-of-16 games played yesterday, Moyale Barracks thrashed Dwangwa United 4-0 whereas Kumbukani Mwambeni’s goal handed Red Lions a 1-0 win over Silver Strikers.

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