Four months after Be Forward Wanderers were crowned 2017 champions, the TNM Super League roars back into life this afternoon with 16 clubs which begin a long and arduous marathon battle to win the ultimate prize in domestic football.
Last season, the top-flight football league set high standards in terms of the quality that was on offer and the overall entertainment package that was delivered at the stadiums and, in the intensity of that riveting battle, the flagship league found a rallying cry that spiced its brand.
And here we go once again. The 21st edition gets underway with Silver Strikers hosting the champions Wanderers in the launch game at Silver Stadium in Area 47, Lilongwe.
Almost all the 16 teams, including the rookies, say they are ready to rumble.
Wanderers coach Yasin ‘Titch’ Osman said despite struggling during pre-season, culminating in their failure to win a game or score a single goal in the Football Association of Malawi (FAM) Charity Shield, they are set for the showdown.
Out of eight pre-season games, the Nomads won only one against Mafco FC but either lost or drew the rest, including against some lower and non league teams.
Said Osman: “We know we have problems as evidenced by results in the pre-season games, but we are working on them. Even though we lost to Silver last weekend [2-0], that is no guarantee that they will beat us again. That’s the beauty about football.”
Asked what targets they have set as they roll out their title defence campaign, the seasoned coach said: “I am a realist, I don’t like to set targets. We will be just taking each game as it comes and, of course, play to win. But if we are to retain the league title, then we need to win games against fellow big teams like today’s. Starting with a win will also boost our confidence.”
Osman also said their seven new players—William Thole, Dan Kumwenda, Peter Cholopi (Azam Tigers), Mischeck Bottoman, Chembezi Dennis and Semion Singa (PremierBet Wizards) and Niikiza Aimable (Nyasa Big Bullets) are adapting well.
His Silver counterpart Young Chimodzi—whose team lost the least number of games last season (two), but finished third—said they are aiming to do better.
“We had too many draws last season and this time around we want to win as many games, especially in first round because the season gets tough in the second round.
“We have had thorough preparations and brought in some new good players that we wanted and they are gelling well with the rest,” he said.
Among others, Silver have roped in last season’s second leading scorer Mphatso Phillemon (Blue Eagles), Jack Chiona (Dwangwa United), Lazarus ‘Deco’ Nyemera Mzuzu University (Mzuni) FC and Newman Mwansamale (Luwinga United).
Chimodzi also played down suggestions that his team are favourites to beat Wanderers in the opening game based on statistics.
Last season, the Bankers beat Wanderers twice in competitive games—in the league and the finals of the inaugural Airtel Top 8 finals [through post-match penalties]. The other league match ended goalless.
And last weekend, Silver beat the Nomads 2-0 in the Charity Shield final qualifier.
Said Chimodzi: “This will be a different game altogether and we don’t want to be swayed by past results.”
Nyasa Big Bullets coach Rogers Yasin—whose side were runners-up in the past two seasons—also said they are ready for the new season.
“Our target is to win the league this season and based on our pre-season preparations, I can confidently declare that we are ready and happy with the squad we have, but given a chance, we can still rope in at least two more strikers,” he said.
The People’s Team, who start a new lease of life under new owners Nyasa Manufacturing Company (NMC), have signed three new players—midfielders Righteous Banda (Civil Sporting Club) and Precious Phiri (Azam Tigers) and striker Patrick Phiri (PremierBet Wizards) while defender Sankhani Mkandawire has returned after a spell at Mbeya FC in the Tanzanian Premier League..
They face Kamuzu Barracks (KB) tomorrow at Civo Stadium in Lilongwe in their opening fixture.
Civil Sporting Club coach Franco Ndawa, whose team finished fourth last season, was cryptic on his expectations in the new season.
“When teams are competing, they all want to win the ultimate prize and that is the championship and we are no exception, but what I would say is that we would want to compete for the top positions and we leave everything in the hands of God almighty,” he said.
Civil will be away to Masters Security Services at Dedza Stadium in their opening fixture tomorrow.
Two of the three promoted teams, Nchalo United and TN Stars’ coaches Charles Manda and Meke Mwase, said their priority will be to remain in the league.
Said Manda: “I think we need to be realistic. As a new team, it will not be easy to fight for the title, but that does not mean we will be pushovers. We will fight to finish on a good position.”
On his part, Mwase said: “We have had good preparations and I am happy with my squad. The players have shown a lot of enthusiasm and commitment and we would want to stand the heat and stay put at the end of the season.”
TN Stars face Eagles this afternoon in their debut match at Kasungu Stadium while Nchalo take on Mzuni FC and Moyale Barracks this afternoon and tomorrow, respectively, in Mzuzu.
Nine games have been lined up in the opening fixture, but there will be none in the South where there is an acute shortage of venues as the ailing Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre is still not ready.
To worsen the situation, Chilomoni Stadium is also not available following the collapsing of part of its perimeter wall and fans in Blantyre will have wait a bit longer before they can watch their teams in action.
Sulom general secretary Williams Banda said as of Wednesday, all but one team—Masters Security— had finalised registration process amid doubts about the team’s participation.
“Only Masters are yet to finalise the process, otherwise all is set for kick-off,” said the Sulom GS.
Banda also said they had finalised stadia inspections and they are satisfied with the conditions. n