When Silver Strikers and FCB Nyasa Bullets clashed in Castel Challenge Cup launch at Bingu National Stadium on June 17, who would have known that fate would also ensure that the two sides should wrap up the competition in the final set for the same venue on Saturday.
Well, the stage is set for the final as the sides who have been outstanding in the inaugural competition, clash in the battle for the K50 million top prize.
Silver won the launch match in which they were at one point leading 2-0 before Bullets reduced the deficit only to concede two more and lose 3-2.
The Bankers have been in top form in the competition, scoring goals at will on the road to the final.
The Area 47 outfit started from round of 32 following a bye during the regional draw and thrashed Namitete based St Gabriel Medicals Zitha FC 5-0 with goals from Patrick Macheso, Nickson Mwase and Stain Davie’s hat-trick.
In the round of 16, the bankers were drawn against former TNM Super League side Ekwendeni United and the Bankers mercilessly punished the Mzimba district outfit 7-1.
This time, George Chaomba netted a hat-trick, Mwase was also on target again while Macheso scored a brace and the other goal was from Zebron Kalima. Ekwendeni scored their consolation through veteran Dan Sibale.
Silver then saw off Blue Eagles 4-2 in a six-goal thriller at Nankhaka Stadium in a game the Bankers had to come from behind through Macheso before Emmanuel Kaunga made it 2-1 after Eagles’ Blessings Malemia gave his side the lead.
MacDonald Lameck then levelled for Eagles but Innocent Shema restored The Bankers’ lead before Macheso netted the fourth to secure a place in the semis.
But The Bankers’ luck has not been the same in other competitions: They are coming into the match following a demoralising 3-1 loss to Mafco on post-match penalties in Airtel Top 8 semi-finals.
However, Silver coach Pietre de Jongh said they had put behind the defeat and are focusing on the Castel Challenge Cup final which present their only chance to finish the 2023 season with silverware.
“It’s a final. It’s the last game of 2023. We need to focus. The past is in the past. Mafco game is finished. You can never progress if you look into the past. You look in the future.
“We are not children. We are adults. We are professionals. Everyone needs to pull up their socks. It’s a final and everyone needs motivation from themselves not anyone else.”
The two sides’ TNM Super League encounters produced no winner which give a picture of what to expect on Saturday.
In the match against Mafco, Silver left a lot to be desired when taking spot kicks, something that De Jongh does not want a repeat.
For the Dutch tactician, caution is the catch word, as he would rather win the match in regulation time to avoid the unpredictable spot kicks.
“Penalties are like lottery. You cannot train penalties because in training, it’s different from match situation where there is pressure in the stadium from supporters,” he said.
Silver face quadruple chasers Bullets who are known to never bat an eyelid when it comes to a cup final.
Regardless, Bullets coach Kallisto Pasuwa, who has already bagged the TNM Super League and the FDH Bank Cup, says the match can go either way.
“Any team that takes off very well will carry the day,” he said.
To make it to the final Bullets’ journey started against Mangochi-based non-leaguers Lipulumundu Stars in round of 64.
Though many expected Lipulumundu to be walkovers at Kamuzu Stadium, it had to take second half goals from Thomson Magombo and Chawanangwa Gumbo for Bullets to book a place in the round of 32.
Pasuwa said the game against the Mangochi side is a good example of how teams prepare when they face Bullets.
“I always give an example of Lipulumundu. A team that plays social football but they gave us a torrid time.
“So, it also needs us to adjust to win games. We have been telling these boys in camp that we have set a precedent where each team needs to be at the level we are when playing them.
“As Bullets, there is no game that a team comes and plays against us with a mentality of losing, saying Bullets should win.
“So if we are not careful, then they [Silver] can carry the day. Silver have been playing very good football. And we respect them as much they respect us when we are a playing them.”
The People’s Team faced another social team from the outskirts of Blantyre—Soche Socials—in the round of 64.
This time, Bullets netted two quick goals through Chinedu Okafor and Peter Banda, but Soche Socials pulled one back, in the 54th through Precious Chadza.
Substitutes Hassan Kajoke and Maxwell Gasten Phodo quickly added two more but the rookies again reduced the deficit to 4-2 through Chimwemwe Mberenga.
In round of 16 Bullets were drawn against TNM Super League giants Civil Service United and surprisingly, unlike in the matches against the non-leaguers, they easily cruised to a 3-0 victory through Lanjesi Nkhoma, Phodo and Kajoke.
Bullets continued their sojourn in quarter-finals with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Ekwendeni Hammers, netting through Kajoke brace, Mwaungulu and Precious Sambani.
Silver were the first to make it to the final after a 2-0 triumph over Bangwe All Stars at Kamuzu Stadium with goals from Chimwemwe Idana and golden boot chaser Macheso.
Bullets followed shortly, after dispatching arch rivals Wanderers 4-2 on post-match penalties at the same venue following one-all stalemate in regulation time.
The Nomads had to come from behind to cancel Bullets’ lead from Mwaungulu’s 31st minute strike through substitute Christopher Kumwembe in the 46th minute.