In what seems to be a closely contested football season, the balance of power rests with Township Rollers as Season 5 of the Mascom Top 8 tournament commences.
Mapalastina, as Rollers are popularly known, have been mighty and relentless in their 2015/16 beMOBILE premiership campaign having maintained a nine game winning streak including three draws. However, the Top 8 is literally a whole new ball game. It is a sprint race where rivals are fully aware of what is at stake. And it is a lot. Tournament sponsors Mascom Wireless are dangling a seven figure P1, 200 000 first prize money to the eight teams who only have to play five games to catch the lucrative carrot.
Teams that have qualified for Top 8 along with Rollers include tournament rookies Orapa United, Extension Gunners, Gilport Lions, Mochudi Centre Chiefs, Police XI and BDF XI and reigning cup champions Gaborone United. Thus far the only teams in this competition that have been keeping Rollers in check within the first half of the current season’s league log standings are Orapa United and BDF XI, and perhaps Mapalastina may feel that they do not have much threat towards the coveted crown given the form of their opponents. In their radar is also Mochudi Centre Chiefs who have never tasted Top 8 success, let alone reach the final of the competition.
The royalty outfit from Kgatleng however, may just be the side to watch this fifth season of the competition. The hurt of never having been able to win this cup with the quality in the arsenal they possess might just spur their desire to snatch it. Thus attention may just be given to the wrong sides, with Mapalastina already seen as the overwhelming favourites. Of course they are; they come into the tournament with fire in their bellies after finishing the last season with no silverware. It was actually the Blues who won the very first Top 8 trophy and have since made it to three finals of the tournament. Yet they have failed in all the latter attempts. That notwhithstanding, they have everything going for them as Englishman headcoach Mark Harrison seems to be making his combinations work well for him.
Harrison’s attack comprises fancy names like Joel Mogorosi, Segolame Boy, Carl Fannigan and Jerome Louis. Besides a terrifying attack force, Harrison has the likes of Kabelo Dambe between the goal posts as well as experience in defence and midfield.
Their journey to glory has a tricky Police XI waiting on the wings. They first have to dispose of the stubborn cops whom they meet in the quarterfinals slated for this Saturday at the National Stadium.Hot on the heels of Rollers going into the tournament are dark horses - or rather dark Ostriches - from Orapa. The Ostriches’ giant killing abilities should not be underestimated and with an illustrious headcoach in Madinda Ndlovu, it will be no surprise when the tournament rookies leave a number of high profile upsets in their wake. Ndlovu will be gunning for his first cup with his new team. The Zimbabwean will also be looking for the personal gratification of beating his former employers in Chiefs and Rollers to the crown. But first they have to contend with an ailing but dangerous Extension Gunners who are yet to win a match in over a month.
Forget their poor run though, under new coach Daniel Nare, Gunners’ display is a marvel to watch and only ill-luck has seen them fail to beat their opponents in their two recent games, the best example being their loss to Rollers last week. They play tournament’s opener this Thursday night at the Itekeng Stadium in Orapa.Army men, BDF XI, are the other contenders for the Season 5 championship. They have won it before, and perhaps having tasted the blood, the soldiers could go all out to repeat their 2013/14 feat when they beat Rollers 5-4 on penalties to win the tournament. Yet they will be up against defending champions Gaborone United who are coming into the tournament in the worst shape possible.
The Reds currently have issues in their technical department that culminated in the firing of their Top 8 winning coach Rahman Gumbo. When the two sides meet on Sunday in Molepolole, United will be under Serbian coach Dragojlo Stanojlovic who will be assisted by former Galaxy man Oris Radipotsane. Meanwhile, before the pomp, fanfare, colour and splendour of the Top 8 runs into the weekend proper, there will be an important matter of league champions Mochudi Centre Chiefs having to take care of tournament minnows Gilport Lions.
The Lions who have taken over the MmaMasire enclave have been on fire of late, scoring goals as if for fun. But in Chiefs they meet the one side yearning for restored pride, and the honeymoon of their P6 million sponsorship may soon be made a subject of distant memory. The teams meet at the Serowe Sports Complex this Friday night.