The first round of the TNM Super League set high standards in terms of the quality that was on offer and the overall entertainment package that was delivered at stadiums.
And this afternoon, the second round swings into action as the battles for the title and avoiding relegation, gain momentum.
Defending champions Be Forward Wanderers set the tone when they host Kamuzu Barracks (KB) at Balaka Stadium this afternoon.
With 28 points, the Nomads are seven points behind leaders Nyasa Big Bullets, but their ever-upbeat team manager Stevie Madeira insists their title defence campaign is within the realms of possibility.
“We are the defending champions and obviously our wish is to retain the title. We are seven points off the top and we have to grind to realise our dream.
“Bullets, Silver Strikers and Civil Sporting Club are looking good, but they have to respect us as champions and we will fight our lungs out to defend it. It’s ours to lose, but we will have to sweat a little bit, watsala, watsala,” he said.
To their credit, for the past one-and-a half seasons, the Nomads have not lost at their dreaded Balaka Stadium.
Statistically, the odds are tipped in the Lali Lubani Road outfit’s favour having won all their three encounters against KB this season.
The Nomads won 2-1 in the first round of the league and beat the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) side back-to-back by 1-0 margins in the quarter-finals of the Airtel Top 8 courtesy of Joseph Kamwendo’s penalty strikes.
However, KB who won the title in 2016, said they will not be moved by past results.
Stand-in coach Temwa Msuku said: “It’s always hard for us whenever we face Wanderers and making matters even worse, we will be without seven key players who have travelled to Zimbabwe for the military sports festival.
“Nevertheless, this will be a different game altogether. The fact that Wanderers have beaten us three times this season is no guarantee that they will win again tomorrow [today].”
KB are eighth with 18 points. They have won four games, drawn six and lost five.
Wanderers are most likely to look up to their ‘prodigal sons’—Jaffalie Chande and Precious Sambani—who should be aided by Yamikani Chester and the experience of Kamwendo, Peter Wadabwa and Zicco Mkanda while Mannase Chiyesa, Fransisco Kamdzeka and Ndaona Daisi will lead KB.
Second-placed Silver, who trail Bullets by three points, set out their second round marathon against Azam Tigers at Mulanje Park also this afternoon.
The Bankers team manager Francis Songo said they learnt a bitter lesson from last season’s campaign.
“Despite losing only one game, we failed to win the title because we had too many draws in the second round. So, once bitten, twice shy. The second round melts like ice…it goes too quickly and we will have to be on guard,” he said.
Leaders Bullets, start their second round campaign tomorrow when they host table-anchors Nchalo United at Mulanje Park.
The People’s Team wound up the first round without tasting defeat, winning 10 matches and drawing five.
That should speak volumes about their deadly intentions to win the league after failing to do so by a whisker in the past two seasons.
But coach Rogers Yasin admits that it will not be a stroll in the park.
“The second round is always tough because teams engage an extra gear to win the title while others step up their act to avoid relegation.
“So, for us it will be about keeping up the tempo and trying as much as possible not to drop points unnecessarily starting with Sunday’s game,” he said.
On today’s game, Yasin said: “They [Nchalo] are not in the Super League by chance, they earned a slot and we will give them the respect they deserve.
“To us, it does not matter that we are top and they are bottom, we have to take every game seriously, especially at this stage of the competition.”
The coach also said although they were expecting to beef up their squad with two more players, they still have the 25 players from the first round and the only one not available is defender Miracle Gabeya who is nursing an injury.
Despite their financial blues, which saw them regrouping only on Thursday, Nchalo coach MacDonald Yobe said they are set for tomorrow’s battle.
“We would have trained for three days by the time we meet Bullets, so we should be ready. My players’ focus is purely on the game, they do not want to be destructed by off-field issues,” he said.
Yobe said they are determined to avoid relegations “and the first five second round games will be crucial”.