Gaborone United (GU) must be feeling hard done! For more than 80 minutes at the cauldron that is the Stade des Martyrs de la Pentecote this past Sunday, GU had held on, withstanding an onslaught from hosts AS Vita Club.
With the score reading 2 – 1 in favour of the hosts, GU, Botswana’s only representative in the continental games knew one thing. If the game finished as it was, they would be through to the next round of the CAF champions league.
Their 1 – 0 win at home a week earlier meant the game would end with the scores tied at 2 – 2. That would see them sneak through to the next round courtesy of the away games rule. But as they say, things do not usually work out as planned.
Then on the 81st minute, something happened. The Cameroonian referee awarded the hosts a set piece a meter or so away from the box, straight in line with the penalty arc.
As Marouf Tchakei stood to take the set piece, GU players set themselves to defend. Mothusi Johnson lay on the ground behind the wall, acting as a grafter in case the ball was played under the jumping wall of Red.
Tchakei however had other ideas. He picked his spot and bent the wall over the wall. Goitseone Phoko was left rooted on the spot, watching as the ball caressed the net at his far-left corner.
AS Vita 3 – 1 GU. Pandemonium broke. AS Vita players and supporters sighed a collective breath of relief. With just eight minutes left, they now believed their team would make it through.
For GU, heartbreak. As Vita players raced to celebrate, Lebogang Ditsile held his hands above his head, walking slowly towards his keeper. His teammates turned around, distraught at the sight of the ball in the net.
One controversial decision, a well taken goal, and GU’s CAF champions league dream was dead. This was not exactly how GU had envisaged their journey will end, with a controversial, yet fatal decision by the man in the middle.
As bitter a defeat as it was, they may have also felt AS Vita deserved to win on the day. In contrast to how they played in Botswana, here at home they took the game to GU. The latter had to fend wave after wave of attack.
For once, GU may have rued the myriad of chances they missed a week earlier at home. Their situation here was also not helped by their defensive approach to the game, which brought them under attack. Defending a single goal away was always not going to be easy in a hostile environment.