A 66th minute goal by Namibian striker Benson Shilongo was enough to help Gaborone United (GU) to cruise to victory and book themselves a Mascom Top 8 final date with cross city rivals Township Rollers. In a game played on the Ides of March, a day which is infamously remembered for the assassination of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar; there was no giant killing drama on the day as GU survived a spirited Nico attack to qualify for the finals.
While the irate Nico coach Wesley Mondo blamed the loss on what he believed to be referee Kutlwano Leso’s biased refereeing, credit should perhaps have gone to GU’s youthful goalkeeper Goitseone Phoko and his defence as they thwarted attempts from Nico United. In his post match interview, a clearly incensed Mondo questioned the referee’s fairness, saying ‘he had won the match for GU.’ Where Caesar had failed to survive an assassination, GU on the other hand survived, albeit with some luck after the referee failed to call what seemed a genuine penalty on the 4th minute after the GU defence appeared to have handled the ball in the area.
The decision set in motion a very tense game that resulted in Nico United’s assistant coach, Duncan Tshegofatso, being sent to the stands as the Nico bench exchanged words with the match officials over what they believed to be biased refereeing. Aside from the contentions, it was Nico who started well but were unlucky as Phoko was in no mood to concede. The youngster set the tone for Nico’s afternoon of frustration as early as the 13th minute when he saved a Khumoetsile Kufigwa set piece. Where the youngster failed, as in the 15th minute when Christopher Musonda breached the GU defence and rounded him off, there was enough cover defence to bail him out. Despite Nico’s spirited fight, it was GU who nearly took the lead midway through the first half as Shilongo’s ball into Nico’s 18 yard box set his fellow striker Tebogo Sembowa face to face with Nico keeper Edwin Mokibe. The striker’s first touch, however, deserted him at a crucial moment, allowing Mokibe to close in on him and block his eventual attempt at goal.
On the other end, Phoko had to be alert to save yet another Kufigwa set piece on the 31st minute. The youngster confirmed his growing stature as a top goalkeeper as he fisted a thunderbolt from Onkabetse Makgantai before turning another Kufigwa strike past the upright to see both teams go into recess goalless. From recess, it was GU who came out the most rejuvenated side and the Nico defence had to be on alert from as early as the 5th minute of the second half.
As in the first half, action then swung to the other side where Phoko dived to save another attempt from Makgantai on the 57th minute. After missing a sitter that could have put GU ahead on the 65th minute, it took only a minute for Shilongo to correct his miss as he netted a goal for his team. The Gaborone outfit nearly extended their lead in the 74th minute when substitute Ronald Chikomo chipped Mokibe only for Onkabetse Seforo to clear his goal bound effort. While Richard Legwaila had seen off Mochudi Centre Chiefs in the first round, there was to be no repetition for the Nico United skipper as he was denied by Phoko with only four minutes of regular time remaining.
The youthful Phoko then denied Legwaila two more times to ensure GU’s appointment with Rollers in the finals. Commenting on the game, GU mentor, Gumbo, expressed delight at how his charges had followed the game plan. Going into the counter, the GU coach said they knew that Nico would be out to get an early goal and they had ‘planned to sit back and catch Nico on the counter.’ With Nico not making any breakthrough, Gumbo said when they went into the second half, they resolved to attack Nico and get a crucial away goal, which they did. GU will now face city rivals Rollers in the lucrative Mascom Top 8 final which is billed for the 25th of April next month.