Cometh the hour, cometh the men, cometh the Blantyre derby. Arch-rivals Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Mukuru Wanderers renew their rivalry when they face off in the final of the 2022 Airtel Top 8 Cup at Bingu National Stadium this afternoon.
Battle lines have been drawn between the two sides as they engaged in verbal tirade this week ahead of the big showdown.
This is the most anticipated fixture in domestic football. Surely, this is the main dish of the 2022 football season after the two teams served the starter in April this year.
A grand opening deserves a grand closing.
In most cases, form does not matter in this fixture but the best team on the day.
Again, you need a bit of sheer luck to get a positive result. The stakes are high in this final.
Money and pride is at stake. The winner will get K17 million plus a trophy whereas the runners-up will pocket K5.5million.
By nature, the derby is a clash of two cultures.
For Bullets, they are hoping to win the treble to underline their supremacy in domestic football by defending the cup.
For Wanderers, they want to end their trophy drought which could be extended to four seasons if they lose this afternoon. The last time Wanderers won a cup was when they beat Silver Strikers 3-2 in the Fisd Challenge Cup in 2018.
Again, Wanderers will also be aiming to win the Airtel Top 8 Cup for first time having lost the inaugural edition 10-9 on post-match penalties to Silver in 2017.
Odds are stacked against Wanderers ahead of the final. This is the fourth meeting between the two sides this season as Bullets have won twice and drawn once.
Wanderers have not beaten Bullets in all competitions this season.
Bullets and Wanderers opened the 2022 season at Kamuzu Stadium in which The People’s Team triumphed 2-1 in the league but shared the spoils after a 3-3 draw in the second round. They also met in the semifinal of the FDH Bank Cup but Bullets outclassed their rivals 4-0.
Probably, vengeance will be Wanderers’ mission in today’s match.
Wanderers and Bullets also met in the 2015 Carlsberg Cup final in which the Lali Lubani outfit triumphed 2-1 at Civo Stadium.
In all fairness, the two teams have assembled good squads.
On paper Wanderers have experienced players but Bullets have determined players.
Like swarm of bees, Bullets play like a unit and they have never die spirit.
Bullets Assistant Coach Peter Mponda said it was a tricky affair.
“We want to finish the season on a high. The players are hungry for more success. They will not relax because they had more victories over their rivals. There are no favourites between Wanderers and Bullets,” Mponda said.
In today’s match, Bullets will be without striker Antony Mfune and Yankho Singo due to injuries but Misheck Selemani could be available.
The People’s Team have enough arsenal capable of beating at team.
Goalkeeper Clever Mkungula will likely be in the starting line up with John Lanjesi, Gomezgani Chirwa, Kesten Simbi and Precious Sambani will be at the back.
Chimwemwe Idana, Ernest Petro, Patrick Mwaungulu, Babatunde Adepoju and Hassan Kajoke are potential match winners.
On the part of Wanderers, they need to be brave to beat Bullets. There is renewed hope in Wanderers camp following the arrival of Coach Mark Harrison.
The Briton has not lost a game since he took over from Alex Ngwira.
After reaching the final last week, Harrison said he anticipated a tough match against Bullets.
“It is a game which we need to prepare for well. We have not won a trophy for four years but we will go with a mission to win it,” Harrison told journalists in Blantyre.
This afternoon, Wanderers will be without Muhammad Sulumba who is in Vietnam for trials. Goalkeeper William Thole will likely maintain his place whereas Stanley Sanudi, Ahmad Kung’unde and Miracle Gabeya will also be at the back.
Veteran midfielder Alfred Manyozo Junior, Felix Zulu, Chiukepo Msowoya and Yamikani Chester are carrying Wanderers’ hope this afternoon.
On their way to the final, Bullets eased past Karonga United 8-1 on aggregate. Bullets won 7-0 in the first leg at Kamuzu Stadium but they drew 1-1 in the second leg at Karonga Stadium.
In the semifinal, Bullets knocked Silver out of the competition following a 3-1 victory.
On the part of Wanderers, they have kept a clean sheet in all the three matches having scored six goals.
They defeated Mafco 4-0 on aggregate after winning both legs by 2-0 margins. In the semifinal, they beat Blue Eagles 2-0 at Kamuzu Stadium.