By Peter Fote and Ronald Mpaso:
Three Malawians are set to temporarily forget their close ties on Saturday when their teams come face-to-face in South Africa’s Nedbank Cup semi-final at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg.
The semi-finalists, Baroka FC and Bloemfontein Celtic, will be the first teams to return to action in the Rainbow Nation after the season was halted in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Baroka have two Malawi national football team players, Gerald Phiri Junior and Richard Mbulu, while Flames legend John Maduka will be making his lone debut as head coach having taken over after co-coach Lehlohonolo Seema left for Chippa United about three weeks ago.
Phiri, a dead ball specialist for both club and country, is optimistic that they will prevail against Celtic despite finding the going tough in the Premier Soccer League where they are fighting relegation.
Baroka lie fourth from the bottom with 24 points from 23 games.
Phiri said they have forgotten their league woes and are focusing on salvaging their season with cup glory.
“We have put our league struggles aside. Our situation in the league is pushing us to fight harder for a place in the final. We are motivated to win and earn a place in next year’s Caf Confederation Cup.
“It feels good to return to the pitch and play football again after months of inactivity. We need to play in Africa and we can only qualify if we win the Nedbank Cup. I have personally trained hard to make a difference in the game,” Phiri said.
Mbulu said winning against Celtic will motivate them to fight for survival in the league.
“After a string of bad results before suspension of football in the country, we need to come back strong. It will be great to win and play in the final. We have a chance to lift this cup,” Mbulu said.
Maduka told supersport.com that he feels that despite challenges of the last few months in lockdown, his side is ready for Baroka.
“Things so far have been going well, we have been working hard at training and we are looking forward to the Nedbank Cup. It is one cup that Celtic has never won before, so it is important we go all out to win. For us to win, we have to win first against Baroka, so now our focus is on them.
“We are looking forward to playing them, we know they are a good team, even though we haven’t seen them for four months now. That makes it tricky because we don’t k ow how they are going to approach the game. Us as a team, we have tried to make sure we plan and go and play according to our game-plan,” he said.
The winner between the two teams will take on either Mamelodi Sundowns or Bidvest Wits in another semi final later on Saturday.
Flames Coach Meck Mwase said he will use the resumption of action in South Africa to monitor his players.
“The bulk of our national team players ply their trade in South Africa. So this is an opportune time to track their progress as our league here remains suspended. We wish all our players well ahead of football restart there,” Mwase said.
Other Malawian players in South Africa are Limbikani Mzava, Denis Chembezi, Khuda Muyaba, Gabadinho Mhango, Chawanangwa Kaonga and Robert Ng’ambi.