By Mabvuto Kambuwe and Ronald Mpaso:
The two regions continued with their tradition of making winning silverware their domain, leaving out the Northern Region, whose only national cup winners, Moyale, failed to qualify for any final.
The Lions of Kaning’ina competed in the last four of the Airtel Top 8 and the Fisd Challenge Cup but that was the best they could achieve as Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers shoved them aside in hotly-contested matches.
With fellow Northern Region-based TNM Super League sides Karonga United and Mzuni failing to make the grade in cup competitions, Moyale could not replicate the form that saw them lift two national cups—Carlsberg and the defunct Standard Bank—in the process surrendering all the glory to the South and Centre.
Central Region’s Blue Eagles won the first silverware of the season when they defeated Bullets from the Southern Region 1-0 in the final of the Airtel Top 8 at Bingu National Stadium (BNS) to cart home K15 million plus a trophy.
Of course the final was dented by deplorable scenes of violence after Steward Mbunge scored a minute spot kick that raised controversy.
In a bid to stamp its authority on unruly elements in the game, Football Association of Malawi asked Bullets to pay about K7.5 million in fines and banned the team from next year’s edition of the competition.
However, the People’s Team looks likely to return to the competition after the country’s football governing body gave indications of reconsidering the ban.
Another Central Region side, Masters Security, emulated Eagles’ example by winning the Carlsberg Cup after beating Bullets and Wanderers on post- match penalties in the semi-finals and the final respectively.
The win was sensational as Masters were not being considered as favourites to lift the cup. But just as the Lilongwe-based side defied the odds by participating in the Caf Confederation Cup early this year, it went on to stun the country’s football fraternity by snatching the cup right from under the noses of the perennial giants.
The Super League title remained in Blantyre for the second consecutive year, with Bullets grabbing it from their rivals Wanderers after collecting 71 points.
Bullets looked like championship material right from the start as they were also in control at the end of the first round.
However, the convincing league showing was not good enough to save the jobs of coach Rodgers Yasini and his assistant Elia Kananji who were sacked after Bullets’ 4-3 loss to Masters Security in the Carlsberg Cup.
Chief Executive Officer for the People’s Team, Fleetwood Haiya, said the two had failed to fulfil their contractual obligation of winning at least two cups besides the league title.
But at the time of their sacking, Bullets were still at the summit of the log table and were yet to lose a league match.
Bullets’ bitter rivals Wanderers did not want to see a third cup going to a Central Region team by thumping Silver Strikers 3-2 in the final of the Fisd Challenge Cup.
The Nomads walked tall in town as they won the most lucrative trophy on the land which saw them get a K16 million pay cheque in a match played on Saturday at BNS.
Relief was the prevalent emotion for of Wanderers as they were in danger of finishing the season empty-handed after surrendering the league title to Bullets.
It was a similar story last year as the South and Centre also shared equal glory from the country’s four top competitions equally.
Wanderers won the league title after 11 years of trying whereas Bullets won the Carlsberg Cup. The Airtel Top 8 Cup went to Silver as Kamuzu Barracks lifted the Fisd Challenge Cup.
The Nomads have been the biggest winners of the season having finished as runners up in two competitions, namely the Super League and the Carlsberg Cup.
For winning the Fisd Cup, Wanderers pocketed K16 million and also got K7 million for finishing as Carlsberg Cup runners-up.
The current status quo in the game means the balance of power continues to rest in the South and Centre with the North lagging behind. The region has gone eight years without winning any silverware.
But for the first time ever, the North has managed to escape Super League relegation as one team from the Centre and two from the South dropped to the lower leagues.
The North will now be represented by its highest number ever in the top league with Moyale, Mzuni, Karonga United and returnees Chitipa United geared for elite football.
Central Region may have lost one team to the Premier Division but with eight teams still competing in the top flight league, there is no cause for alarm.
The region has the highest number of contributions to the elite league with Silver, Civil Sporting Club, Dwangwa United, Eagles, Masters, Kamuzu Barracks, TN Stars and newly-promoted Mlatho Mponela set to compete for league glory in the 2019 season.
But the Southern Region should be worried as it only has four teams in the top flight- Bullets, Wanderers, Tigers and a yet-to-be determined team (which will emerge champions in the Southern Region Football Association League).
Central Region’s Mafco were relegated alongside Red Lions and Nchalo United from the South.
Former Civo, Bullets and Wanderers goalpoacher Andrew Chikhosi said the South and Centre will remain powerhouses in domestic football because of better sponsorship.
“Teams from the South and Centre win trophies every year unlike their Northern Region counterparts. It is high time that teams in the North started challenging for the cups every year. They should not leave this to Moyale only,” Chikhosi said.
Renowned soccer analyst George Kaudza Masina concurred with Chikhosi, saying the South and Centre will continue to dominate competitions if the North does not challenge them.
“The two regions will always dominate domestic football. Moyale are a good team that has represented the North well over the years but they have struggled this season. I hope they will come back stronger next year,” Kaudza Masina said.
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