By Antony Isaiah Jr:………..
Mighty Mukuru Wanderers have reached the season 5 of Airtel Top-8 Cup after beating Mafco 4 on aggregate. Two goals in Blantyre and two goals at Chitowe Stadium were enough to propell the Lali Luban based team, to the next round and join Nyasa Big Bullets rambled over Karonga United Football Club.
Chiukepo Msowoya made a breakthrough before Felix Zulu netted a belter in the second half to rub off Mafco’s hope of staging a come-back in a game that was full of tempers.
The win keeps Mighty Mukuru Wanderers’ hope of winning their first silverware since 2018 alive. They will play the winners between Blue Eagles and Dedza Dynamos in the last four.
𝐌𝐚𝐟𝐜𝐨 𝐠𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐛𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝𝐧’𝐭 𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐨𝐧 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐯𝐞𝐬
Going into the game, The Salima based Soldiers were supposed to pillage more than 3 goals for them to have their slot in the semifinals secured as they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Blantyre a fortnight ago.
They were booted out by Nyasa Big Bullets’s in the same round, and that traumatic defeat still rings in their minds. This prompted the boys to start the game on high notch but breaking Miracle Gabeya’s led defence was tough for them.
Mark Simon Harrison who has replaced Alex Ngwira as the Head Coach had featured a back four of Gabeya, Sanudi, Balaka and Cholopi while Captain, Alfred Manyozo Jnr made his second consecutive start for the first time this season and he was deployed as the defending midfielder.
In absence of Stereo Gondwe who was shown a red card in the first leg, assistant coach, Jimmy Msunga stepped up to fill the boots and he vied for a 4–4-2 with Paul Ndhovu leading the defence.
But the whole Mafco FC side paid the price for a ponderous performance, with Harrison’s boys capping a magnificent second-half display when Zulu fired Chester’s excellent ball into the roof of the net in the 77th minute.
That sparked wild celebrations in the stands of Chitowe Stadium from thousands of Nomads, who had created a raucous atmosphere from the start.
Few surprises had seemed on the cards early on. After surviving a high-tempo and helter-skelter approach from Mafco in the first half- Wanderers’ initial job this time was to break down Mafco’s solid defence.
In the first half, Mafco sprouted the anger and zeal to find an early goal but Thole who started on behalf of Mapira had to deny them. They managed it within the first five minutes, when Paul Phiri saw Wanderers’ defence gapping, he sent Bernad Chimaimba running clear, but he was denied by Yamikani Thole. He cut inside and unleashing a thunderbolt from 25-metre distance that was saved away by the goalkeeper.
Roared on by their noisy fans, who were bouncing all around Chitowe Stadium in great numbers, Wanderers comfortably kept them at bay by absorbing the pressure coughed by the hosts and began to grow into the game themselves.
They thought they had taken the lead just after 15 minutes when Vitumbiko Kumwenda’s free-kick was wonderfully palmed away by Blessings Kameza before Vincent Nyangulu being denied to hit the back of the net by Kameza again as he rooted out a shot inside the penalty box after Mafco’s defence troubled to deal with Sanudi’s throw-inn.
With Bernard Chimaimba on the left, Mafco had a good width to attack. Within the first 30 minutes, the attacker managed to swing in at least five crosses but they were lacking a real goal-poacher- per haps they missed Richard Mbulu who was serving a one-game ban for harassing the referee in the first leg.
Nomad’s slick passing was easy on the eye but when the more studied style could not find a breakthrough, Harrison was able to apply Plan B in the shape of the wide attacks. They were lacking creativity until they introduced Yamikani Chester and Wisdom Mpinganjira for Vincent Nyangulu and Joseph Balakasi- a substitution which saw the Nomads shifting to 3-5-2 with Botoman and Chiukepo as the twin-strikers.
They broke the deadlock through Chiukepo in the 66th minute before Zulu extended the lead 10 minutes later.
𝐖𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐂𝐡𝐢𝐮𝐤𝐞𝐩𝐨, 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐡𝐨𝐩𝐞
With the main man, Muhhamad Sulumba who has seen his scoring target going away in the last four games, Chiukepo was the recipient of the vast support from the mad supporters who filled the stadium.
He has done it for years, from Escom, Flames and at Nyasa Big Bullets before securing a move to the blue camp- But the expectations were high after the move, he couldn’t reach the hype, however, he was the main man in Wanderers’ 2-0 win at Chitowe.
Wanderers knew defeat would be an embarrassment as it would put the fans on hold for the first silverware until 2023 as this is the last Cup this seqson. Chiukepo who has been winning trophies for the past 8 years, knew this would mean the major honour that has eluded his grasp in a glittering career would be forever out of reach.
Heshouldered burden of Nomad’s expectations – and he delivered by pulling out a piece of trademark magic when they needed it most to change the course of an attritional game.
The clock showed 66 minutes. Each passing second turned up the pressure valve on Wanderers because had Mafco scored first, the temple of the game would change.
He had two shots blocked by Mafco defenders within the first three minutes and this conveyed message that he was eager to be on the scoresheet. But this time, Mafco couldn’t do otherwise, but allow him to stab him Sanhudi’s free-kick from the right flank.
It was an out-swinger from the fullback and the veteran striker beat Mafco’s offside trap, and with the first touch arrowed a low finish into the bottom corner past the outstretched left arm of Blessings Kameza.
He nearly grabbed his second but opted to rifle into the air a good ball from Vincent Nyangulu on the right flank. He was named the “Dolo Wa Mpira” after the game.