The race to Mascom Top 8’s mouth-watering P1.3 million purse is set to kick off with explosive clashes expected when last season’s eight best sides go head to head in what is Botswana’s most lucrative cup tournament.
After some hackling between the Botswana Football Association (BFA), the Botswana Premier League (BPL) and sponsors Mascom Wireless, the partners finally sealed a two year deal with an option to renew for a third year.
The action is set to start with defending champions Jwaneng Galaxy and the tournament’s perennial underachievers Mochudi Centre Chiefs on Friday 25th November.
A day after on the 26th, it will be the battle between current league season’s on-form teams, log leaders Township Rollers and third placed BDF XI. Top 8 debutants Security Systems will then take on last season’s finalists Orapa United on Sunday 27th before another much anticipated battle between Extension Gunners and Gaborone United on Monday 28th.
Even though the launch of the plum tournament was funereally low key and underwhelming to say the least, excitement is expected to hit fever pitch once the tournament popularly known as ‘Tse Ditona’ (The Big Ones) finally kicks off.
“From the two previous editions, what we have learnt is that this cup competitions is full of surprises. When it comes to this tournament, form book is tossed aside and it is very difficult to predict who will win,” Yarona FM sports anchor Kagiso Phatsimo opined.
The same sentiments are shared by sports analyst Kagiso Kgaogano, who however said while such is the case, Rollers looks a sure bet to win the tournament.
“Currently, Rollers is doing very well and are strong favourites to win. If you look at their current form, it is the first time we see a team win all their opening seven league games and that on its own shows they are better than their competitors,” Kgaogano opined.
Kgaogano further said Rollers chances are further boosted by the quality of players they have in their squad, an opinion which is similar to that of Phatsimo.
“Rollers have depth in their team and it is no surprise they have at least ten players called for national duty. The players’ welfare is well taken care of and players are incentivised for good performances. While this is no guarantee they will win, they are strong favourites,” opined Phatsimo.
Both were however concerned that while BDF XI boasts of good players and is doing well, the team however does not have the depth.
“Going forward, BDF XI is very good and has very good players. Their defence however is very porous and looking at the form of Rollers forwards, it will be very difficult for them to make it into the semis,” said Kgaogano.
“BDF XI can have a good starting line up but it does not have depth. Letang Kgengwenyane is doing well as a coach but should there be injuries or suspensions, they will not have quality players to replace any in their starting line-up,” Phatsimo said.
Concerning Galaxy and Chiefs, both are pessimistic that Chiefs will not break its Top 8 duck, but also believe Galaxy will struggle to defend their title.
Kgaogano and Phatsimo say given the instability at Chiefs where players are threatening to boycott matches, it is unlikely the club will challenge for honours.
“As for Galaxy, while they are likely to beat Chiefs, it is still difficult to see them defending the cup as they are still struggling to gel as a team. The problem for Galaxy started when they let go of most of the players who won them Top 8 and then brought in a lot of new faces. It will take time for the new players to gel and the team will struggle a bit,” said Kgaogano.
“It was surprising to see Galaxy let go of many players at once. Some of them such as Lesego Lubinda and Thabang Sesinyi played a vital role in the team’s success in Top 8. While they boast of quality players in their ranks, the fact that they have roped in a lot of new players means they will take some time to fall into place,” Phatsimo said.
With regards to Gunners and GU, both said the teams are likely to struggle during the tournament. According to Kgaogano, “Gunners does not have enough depth and their defence has been found wanting at times. Though they may beat GU, they will struggle.”
The same sentiments were shared by Phatsimo who said due to the apparent lack of depth and cup pedigree, they may struggle.
“They however have nothing to lose and they should therefore approach this tournament like Orapa and Galaxy did in their debut. They have no pressure and they should go out there, enjoy playing and see where they end up,” said Phatsimo.
“With GU, while they have a good enough squad, I think infightings within the club are inhibiting the team. As a result of the infightings, there is a lot of uncertainty and the team is affected,” continued Phatsimo.
“GU has a lot of off the field challenges and they are destabilising the team. They have good players capable of competing but the current atmosphere prevents them from being competitive,” Kgaogano said.
While debutants Security Systems have a chance of knocking out last edition’s finalists Orapa United, both acknowledge it will be difficult for them to win it.
“Last season in the league, they did well because there was no much expectation on them. This time around, all eyes will be on them and they may buckle under the pressure. While they have a decent squad, they also have no cup experience and they may find themselves struggling,” said Phatsimo.
“While Systems does not have cup experience, they however have a very stable but skilful team. All they need is to get their team combinations right and they will have a great shot at progressing,” said Kgaogano.
“As for Orapa, I think the coach has lost the dressing room hence their struggles. Orapa has a very good team full of good quality players and they should not be struggling as they are. If they can resolve whatever the problems they have, they can do well,” said Kgaogano.
Phatsimo shared the same observation, saying given the quality within the Orapa squad, the team should be challenging for honours alongside Rollers.
“In terms of player quality, Orapa is one of the teams closest to Rollers. However, recent events show that something may be seriously wrong with the team. The stripping of the captaincy armband from Thabang Mosige shows there may be something happening there. It seems like a rift has developed within the team and all this is affecting them and I therefore do not see them competing competitively,” concluded Phatsimo.