The curtain is closing on the Coca-Cola Cup, after a mix of excitement and sorrow for competing teams in the 20-year-old tournament.
Since its inception, the Coke Cup has produced some of the biggest surprises in Botswana football. Some lower division sides have turned themselves into giant killers.
The likes of Makgabisanaga, Space Moonlanders, Stone Breakers and Mokgosi Young Fighters have all made their names in this competition. After Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) announced that they would be sponsoring the Football Association (FA) Cup for the last time to focus on youth development, all the 64 clubs went for broke to ensure they won it for keeps.
As has been the norm over the last two decades, while most of the lower division sides fell by the wayside, only one club remains standing tall. Before this year’s event, Molapong Green Birds were unheard of in local football except in Kweneng District Football divisions. Yet the Mmopane-based outfit defied the odds when they brushed aside some of the well known sides in the country to reach the quarterfinal.
On their way to the quarters, Green Birds shocked many football followers when they eliminated First Division side Jwaneng Comets before embarrassing Premier League sides Nico United and Notwane. While most people dismissed Green Birds’ win against Nico United as a fluke, it is their spirited performance against Notwane last weekend which has left many people taking note.
The District football side did not only eliminate Toronto but they outclassed them in all departments. Notwane were lucky to have pushed the game to the penalty-shootouts after a 2-2 draw inside 90 minutes.
While comprising unknown players, Green Birds have some of the noisiest supporters in Botswana football who can intimidate any opponent no matter their stature. Though they were few in numbers in Molepolole when they eliminated Notwane, it is their character which made life difficult for Notwane.
On Wednesday during the Coke Cup quarterfinal draw at the Main Mall in Gaborone, their supporters, clad in green and white, said that they were not scared of any of the seven Premier League sides remaining in the tournament. With the draw pitting the Birds against Gaborone United (GU), those in attendance claimed the Mmopane-based team will sail all the way to the semis.
Green Birds remain a closed book to the Reds while the Mmopane side is familiar with GU who has not won this tournament in their history.
On Friday morning, Green Birds’ coach Percy Leburu said that they have intensified their training after being tossed against GU. He said they have identified GU’s strong and weak points.
“I have no doubt that we can reach the semis. The good thing is that we’ll be able to spy more on GU this weekend to be in a good position to know what to expect from them. Before playing GU, we’ll organize friendly games against Premier League sides so that we can be in good shape when the game comes.”
Leburu noted that when they played Notwane, they missed lots of scoring chances which could have seen them winning by a bigger margin. He has already warned his players about the risk of not converting the chances they get during the match.
“It is important that we convert the chances we create during the game. The morale in the camp is high and there is that belief that we can beat GU, which makes my job simple. The truth of the matter is that all my players want to play a role against GU; they’re punctual at training,” he said.
Green Birds’ gaffer says what motivates them is that even the village elders are behind them, which makes their job a lot easier.
“The support has been fantastic. The people of Mmopane are behind us and I’m expecting a larger turnout in our next game. People have been enquiring about our replicas,” said Leburu.
The club’s leading scorer in the competition, Tebogo Mapugwi, remains their trump card alongside the likes of Tebogo Odumetse, Otsile Tlhoafetse, Kagelelo Ikgopoleng, skipper Lebogang Lesole and goalkeeper Keletso Chalashika.
“We know that nobody gives us a chance against GU but we’re not worried,” concluded a confident Leburu.