Battles for the 2019 Airtel Top 8 honours begin this afternoon with potentially explosive quarter-final first legs in Blantyre and Kasungu as four teams seek to have a spring in their step ahead of the second legs.
Setting the tone at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre will be Be Forward Wanderers, who host inaugural winners Silver Strikers in one of the most anticipated fixtures, while TN Stars entertain Karonga United, the setting is Kasungu Stadium.
The rivalry between the Nomads and Central Bankers has grown considerably in recent years and a fixture involving the two teams is always a crowd puller.
Wanderers still have bitter memories of how Silver ended their proud tradition of winning inaugural tournaments when they beat them in the finals of the 2017 edition 10-9 through post-match penalties.
And the Lali Lubani Road outfit’s team manager Stevie Madeira yesterday said it will take time to erase the sour memories.
“It still pains us up to this day, but we also have to find solace in that a lot has happened in between and just four months ago, we beat them in the finals of the Fisd [Challenge] Cup.
“That said, preparations have gone on well and we are looking forward to the game all focused. We are also well aware that this is the only cup that is missing from our trophy cabinet and this time around, we have a realistic chance of winning it, especially if we go past Silver,” said the ever upbeat team manager.
Nomads’ coach Bob Mpinganjira said it is important to take advantage of the home fixture.
“We are taking this fixture seriously. It is very important to win at home so as to pile pressure on Silver in the return leg. We should not concede but keep a clean sheet,” he said.
Silver assistant coach Lovemore Fazili said they are targeting an away win.
“Whatever happened last year or before is now water under the bridge. We are working very hard to win the game on Saturday. We are doing everything in training to come up with a proper winning formula and the mental capacity to achieve that. An away victory will give us a yard stick and courage when we meet in the return match,” he said.
“Almost every player is available and fit for the game.”
Last year, Silver reached the semi-finals but were booted out by eventual champions Blue Eagles to halt their title defence bid.
Incredibly, Wanderers were also booted out in the semi-finals by Nyasa Big Bullets last year.
When the two teams met in the league last season, Wanderers won the first round 2-1 and they drew 1-1 in the second round.
Going by these records, the game in Blantyre will be difficult to predict. Both also teams boast of quality and have depth in their squads.
Khuda Muyaba, Mike Tetteh, Zikani Kasambara, Jack Chiona, Newman Mwamsamale are all proven good hitmen for Silver and give the technical panel enough options in attack.
Levison Maganizo, Duncan Nyoni, Thuso Paipi, Green Harawa are other players who can make a difference.
Wanderers too have some of the most lethal forwards in the country.
New additions Babatunde Adepoju, Peter Katsonga, Francis Mkonda, Richard Rabson and Fransisco Madinga have joined a team with an array of attacking in the likes of Zicco Mkanda, Alfred Manyozo Jnr, Semion Singa and Mike Kaziputa.
In Harry Nyirenda, Stanley Sanudi, Peter Cholopi, Chembezi Dennis, Bongani Kaipa, Francis Mulimbika, Lucky Malata, Hanke Machila and Nigerian new-signing Raphael Otibhor Udah, the Nomads also of an experienced defence.