Cometh the hour, cometh the Blantyre derby. Domestic football giants Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Wanderers open their 2022 installment when they face each other in the TNM Super League opener at Kamuzu Stadium this afternoon.
For starters, the first Blantyre derby was played between 1969 and 1970 at the then Rangeley Stadium (now Kamuzu Stadium) in Blantyre. But this is the 69th league derby between the two rivals since the league was introduced in 1986.
Probably, the match has come too soon for the two sides as they have reshuffled their respective squads during the off season break. The last time Bullets and Wanderers met in the league opener was 2004/5 season but the match ended 3-0 in favour of the People’s Team.
Perhaps, both teams would want to start the season on a high this afternoon.
There is a lot at stake in this match as, apart from points, Blantyre City bragging rights are also at stake.
Save for the second round match last super league season which Wanderers won 1-0 for the first time in nine years, past battles had been ending in draws for four seasons.
However, the last time the two giants locked horns at the stadium last season, Bullets beat Wanderers 4-1 in the semifinal of the Airtel Top 8 Cup.
Both teams have assembled strong squads in domestic football.
Bullets coach Kalisto Pasuwa has blended his side with experienced and young players as he aims for a fourth straight league title.
Pasuwa said his troops were in high spirits ahead of the grudge match.
“We are playing against an experienced side so we need to be cautious. We do not need to put much pressure on the boys. It is a big game and we need to accept any result,” Pasuwa said.
At the back, captain John Lanjesi will likely lead defence alongside Nickson Nyasulu, Hadji Wali and Yamikani Fodya, at the same time providing cover to Richard Chimbamba.
Midfielder Chimwemwe Idana, Ernest Petro, Misheck Selemani and Patrick Mwaungulu are expected to start.
Former Wanderers forward Babatunde Adepoju and Hassan Kajoke are likely to partner upfront.
On the part of Nomads, they have assembled an experienced side.
Sounding calm, Wanderers assistant coach Joseph Kamwendo was full of confidence ahead of the big match.
“It is a tricky match and we need to be on top of our game to get a positive result,” Kamwendo said.
Striker Chiukepo Msowoya, who is now at Wanderers, will be on spotlight as he faces his former club.
New signing goalkeeper Pilirani Mapila, who had a grand game against Silver Strikers on Sunday, is likely to be between the sticks with Nigerian Adeleke Kalawole, Peter Cholopi, Stanley Sanudi and Bongani Kaipa at the back.
Captain Alfred Manyozo, Felix Zulu, Yamikani Chester will be at the hub of the team. Msowoya and Vincent Nyangulu will likely lead the attack.
Elsewhere, Karonga United will host Kamuzu Barracks at Karonga Ground this afternoon, Ekwendeni Hammers will face TN Stars at Mzuzu Stadium.
Action will continue tomorrow as last year’s runners up Silver Strikers are on the road facing Red Lions at Balaka Stadium.
Civil Service United host Sable Farming at Civo Stadium whereas Mafco will be in action against Blue Eagles at Chitowe Stadium.
Tigers will start the season with a match against Moyale Barracks at Mpira Stadium whereas rookies Rumphi United and Dedza Dynamos face-off at Rumphi Ground.
Meanwhile, the league’s sponsors, TNM plc, have dubbed this season as ‘Bola Pamtsetse’ to connect football with the excitement of unlimited and affordable mobile data bundles under its flagship Pamtsetse tariffs.
“We at TNM are proud to present the new season and invite fans back to the stands after a long break due to Covid-19 limitations. As more people are receiving their Covid-19 vaccine doses and following preventive measures, we are confident that more fans will be allowed to go and cheer on their teams, but with the necessary public health precautions in mind,” Chief Executive Officer Arnold Mbwana said.
This season’s champions will pocket K40 million up from K15 million whereas the player of the year will get K2 million.
Runners-up will get K15 million (up from K7.5 million) while the third best team will get a K7.5 million reward (up from K4 million).