Saturday, September 19, 2020

Can Chiefs and Ecco hold on until the end?

In almost all elite soccer leagues around the world, there are teams that are deemed championship material. Such teams know when exactly to hit where it matters the most and claim the title. Even when they start slow, they always find their way to the top.

On the other hand there are some teams that can start the league on a very high note only to flounder at the crucial stages. Botswana’s Premier League is not an exception. There have been teams in the past that led the league for quite a long period only to tumble towards the end.

Prisons XI once led the league for close to two months two seasons ago but wilted with only few games left before the league came to an end. But, again, Police XI remains one of the few teams that led from the beginning to the end.

Last season, they made history by not only leading from the beginning to the end, but they won the league for the first time in their history.

The jungle kings, as Police XI is dubbed, won the league with five games in hand. Two seasons before winning the title, Police XI also had a temporary lead, which, in retrospect, must have served as a lesson for them.

Currently, the first round of the Premier League is left with only a handful of games and already two teams that have never won the league before, Mochudi Centre Chiefs and Ecco City Greens are leading the pack. The question is: will both teams hold on to their lead to the final day or they are only warning the position for seasoned campaigners like BDF XI, Notwane and Township Rollers?

For Centre Chiefs, it would be a huge honour to win the league because they are one of the teams with a large following. In the past, they missed winning the league championship by just a whisker. They closest in 1981, 1990, and 2001. But it was evidently more painful for them to lose the championship in 1990. They had led the then Super league from the first game and lost out in the very last game of the league.

It was a two horse race between them and Gaborone United (GU). It was tense. In their last game, Centre Chiefs had to beat the already relegated Nico United, provided Tafic defeated or held GU to a draw. Tafic did Chiefs a favour by sharing the spoils with GU only for Chiefs to lose by a solitary goal to Nico in a controversial game.

For the past years Chiefs have been trying by all means to win the league, but no little avail. What surprises people the most about Chiefs is that they have never been short of a pool of experienced players. Even this season, they have many players that are the envy of many teams. They even have two of their players in the national team.

Ecco City on the other hand are in their third season in the Premier League and it would be a huge success should they manage to hold on. Since their promotion to the Premier League, they have been in the top eight. Last season, they did better by finishing on position four and their striker, Malepa Bolelang, ending up as the leading goal scorer. What astonishes about Ecco is that they do not have big names in their team. About 75 percent of the players came from the lower division with the team.

Seasoned soccer analyst, Dennis Keagile, told The Sunday Standard that it is still too early to judge both teams. He, however, added that for one of them to win the league, there were a lot of factors that should be taken into consideration. He said the management of the teams must work hand in hand with the technical department to boast the morale of the players. Keagile also emphasised that Chiefs have in the past not been able to win the league, not necessarily because they did not have good players. Keagile said there were off the field problems that resulted in players losing focus.

“Winning the league is not an easy task. Teams need to be organised, united and disciplined at all times. This must not only apply to the players and coaches but the management as well. Both Ecco City and Chiefs have good players and coaches, but the challenge now is within the management and how they relate with the technical team. For instance, let’s say both teams lose two or three games in a row. The challenge would be how management reacts to that. Teams like Chiefs have been prone to disunity in the past but since there is a new management things might happen this time around,” Keagile said.

Keagile also added that Ecco City is promising and if the players could stay focused and maintain cordial relationships with the management, they have a chance of walking away with the league title.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.