The TNM Super League title race is like a marathon. It does not matter how you start but how you finish the race.
The long wait is finally over as the Super League rolls into life this afternoon with defending champions, Be Forward Wanderers’ title defence under scrutiny when they face Silver Strikers at Silver Stadium in Lilongwe.
Both teams head into the fixture having lost their respective matches in the Football Association of Malawi (Fam) Charity Shield played at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe last weekend.
Silver lost 3-0 to Nyasa Big Bullets in the final whereas Kamuzu Barracks beat the Nomads 1-0 in a third place play-off.
Both teams would quickly want to forget last week’s results and get down to serious business.
Surely, both sides have assembled quality squads to withstand the heat at the top level but such games require great character.
Silver have dominated the previous four meetings against Wanderers in all competitions, having beaten them in the Airtel Top 8 Cup final (10-9 on post-match penalties) and 2-1 in the league’s second-round.
They drew 0-0 in the first-round at Bingu National Stadium but Silver beat Nomads 2-0 in a Charity Shield match last week.
The two sides also met in the opening week of the 2014 season as Silver beat Wanderers 2-0 at Kamuzu Stadium but Wanderers avenged the defeat with a 2-1 victory in the opening match in 2016 at Silver Stadium.
For the past two seasons, Silver have struggled in the opening week, having started the 2017 campaign with a 1-1 draw against Premier Bet Wizards before losing 1-0 to Azam Tigers.
The Nomads started the 2017 season with a 1-0 victory over Kamuzu Barracks at Civo Stadium in a league opener.
Silver Team Manager, Francis Songo, said they were cautious ahead of the match.
“The loss to Bullets is water under the bridge. We have to get back to serious business. We have enjoyed matches against Wanderers but we need to be at our best because they will also be looking for a win. We have an advantage of playing in front of our home crowd,” Songo said.
Despite the Nomads’ sloppy performance in the Charity Shield where they failed to score and conceded three goals in two games, Wanderers’ Team Manager, Steve Madeira, hopes that sheer determination will power his charges to kick-start the title defence on a high.
“If you look back at our four meetings, Silver have come out tops and we are underdogs going into the match. But we are the defending champions and this season our priority is retaining the league,” he said.
The Nomads’ potency in front of goal has been one of their major problems in pre-season games and will be under spotlight against Silver.
For the Nomads, the responsibility of scoring goals rests on experienced strikers Esau Kanyenda and Peter Wadabwa.
Another veteran, Joseph Kamwendo, has a tough job in midfield alongside Rafik Namwera and Alfred Manyozo Junior.
At the back, the Nomads have plenty of options, including Lucky Malata, Dennis Chembezi, Peter Cholopi, Stanley Sanudi and Precious Sambani.
Wanderers will be without Yamikani Chester, Richard Chipuwa and Harry Nyirenda due to injury.
In today’s match, Silver must also exercise caution at the back as they struggled to defend set-pieces in last week’s match against Bullets.
Yunus Sherrif, Chisomo Mpachika and Mike Robert are likely to retain their places in defence with Young Chimodzi Junior, Jack Chiona and Timothy Chitedze in midfield.
In other matches today, Karonga United host Azam Tigers whereas Dwangwa United welcome Red Lions as rookies TN Stars entertain Blue Eagles whereas Mzuni FC invite returnees Nchalo United to Mzuzu Stadium.
Tomorrow, Bullets face Kamuzu Barracks again at Civo Stadium, a week after beating the soldiers 2-1 in the Charity Shield.
Six-time champions, Wanderers won the 2017 league championship with 69 points, just a point above runners-up Bullets. Silver finished third with 61 points. Bullets are chasing a 13th title whereas Silver have won the league eight times.