FCB Nyasa Bullets this afternoon face a stern test of character as they host Democratic Republic of Congo’s Tout Puissant Mazembe in 2023 TotalEnergies CAF Champions League second round at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe.
The match is like the battle between David and Goliath in the Valley of Elah, if statistics of the two sides are anything to go by.
Five time CAF Champions League champions Mazembe, who have an ensemble of players from all over Africa, including Mali, Togo, Zambia and Nigeria, have been regulars in CAF club competitions and this is their 25th appearance.
The won the CAF Champions League in 1967, 1968, 2009, 2010 and 2015 and the CAF Confederation Cup 2016 and 2017.
Mazembe also boast of CAF Super Cup, a competition contested between the winners of the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup, which they won in 2010, 2011 and 2016.
In 2010, Mazembe came close to winning the Fifa Club World Cup as they lost to Inter Milan in the final.
Bullets, on the other hand, have never won a continental title and their best performance in the CAF club competitions was in 2003 when they reached the CAF Champions League group stage.
Bullets coach Kallisto Pasuwa in pre-match interview said everyone is aware that they are playing the continents’ football heavyweights.
He said: “We are meeting an experienced side and former champions. Very good team in terms of approach or even tactical awareness and very big in stature.
“Even when they are taking free kicks they are very good. That’s a team where even a corner kick they can punish you. We need to be quite aware of those areas.”
Mazembe enjoy one of the best sponsorships in Africa from business mogul-cum-politician Moise Katumbi.
However, the Zimbabwean tactician said they are prepared for the match and will give their all to cause an upset.
“This must not be the end of it. We need to fight to get to the next round. We hope for the best when we meet them tomorrow. We have been talking to the boys, trying to psyche them up to get into the groove.”
“Tactical awareness is important. Firstly, we play 11 players and the opponents also have 11 players. We have been telling the players that if they play well, they might make history. I hope they will do the job for us,” he said.
Bullets qualified for the CAF Champions League second round for the first time since 2015 after 3-0 aggregate win over Equatorial Guinea’s Dragon FC.
They beat the side 2-0 away and narrowly won 1-0 at Bingu National Stadium to book a tie with Mazembe who were on bye.
Pasuwa said as they face the Congolese, they cannot afford to be complacent just because they are playing at home.
He said; “It’s the mind aspects of it, saying at home we are winning. When you are playing at home it’s not obvious that you will win. When we played Dragon FC away, we did put up a good performance. But when we played them here at home, we struggled. But we need to put everything in place to win the game. It’s about mentality.
“That’s one area we are trying work out for everyone who is involved, starting from supporters, management, the players and the coaches. We need to put everything in place in order to win the game. I talked of mentality aspect of it and how we are going to approach this game.”
Though hungry for success when attacking may be catastrophic.
“We can’ t thr ow everything to them. The moment we leave more spaces and even try to push much, we will end up confusing everything. So we need to be very tactical when approaching the match,” he said.
A comfort for Bullets is that they face Mazembe at a time the side has been struggling in CAF competitions for the past six years.
In 2017, they were knocked out in the first round but in 2018 they managed to reach the quarter-finals.
In 2018, they also made it to the quarter-finals and the following year made it into the semi-finals.
In 2019-2020, they also reached the quarter-finals but last season they were knocked out in the group stage by Vipers of Uganda.
The team’s poor performance forced them to recall coach Lamine Ndiaye to save the sinking ship.
Ndiaye yesterday said they do not underrate Bullets.
He said: “They have made it this far which means they are equally good.”
Bullets will be without midfielder Peter Banda, striker Maxwell Gasten Phodo, defender Blessing Mpokela, attacker Mike Mkwate and Alick Lungu who are injured.
Howeve r, Hassan Kajoke, Precious Sambani, Patrick Mwaungulu, Stanley Billiat, Eric Kaonga are fit for the match.