Monday, September 28, 2020

Will any First Division team win the Coca Cola Cup?

Since its inauguration in 1992, no team in the lower division has won the Coca-Cola tournament.

The furthest the teams went was only the finals, while most bow out in the semi-final stages.

Memorable teams that reached the finals while still campaigning in the lower division were Mokgosi Young Fighters in 1997, Township Rollers (2003) and Gaborone United (GU) in 2000.
In the semi finals, teams like Orapa Bucks, Prisons XI and Police XI are some of the teams that once made their presence felt as they shook some top teams.

For Bucks, it was in 1996 when they were demolished 6-1 by Township Rollers, who went on to win the tournament after trashing BMC 2-0.
Prisons and Police XI, on the other hand, nearly caused upsets in 1994 after putting up outstanding fights.

Gunners narrowly beat Prisons by a solitary goal while Police forced Rollers to sudden death penalties with Rollers eventually winning 8-7. Police came back from a two goal deficit and forced the game into extra time until the penalties. Police, who would get promoted the following season, came with many excellent footballers, like Sergeant Lebekwa, the late Olivier Pikati, Ambrose Ramosweu and Stranger Peloyakgomo.

But the team that broke the Coca-Cola jinx was Mokgosi Young Fighters in 1997. They surprised many people by defeating several Premier League heavy weights and reached the finals only to be outsmarted by spirited and experienced Notwane.

Mokgosi were then under the tutelage of Zimbabwean, Ezekiel Mpofu. With experience of coaching in the Premier League and especially the big guns, Mpofu transformed Mokgosi into a formidable force and blended it with some players who also had a stint in the Premier League. Some of such players were Reuben Tshwenetshwene, whom was lured from Township Rollers.

Upon meeting Notwane, Mokgosi never underestimated themselves and only lack of experience counted against them. They would also gain promotion to the elite league the same season only to be relegated the following season.
The team never made it back and is currently campaigning in the district football divisions.

Mokgosi played a team that was then a regular feature in the international CAF competitions and had great players. From the back to the front line, Notwane were untouchable and had players like, Madonsela Ngaka, Maybin Chama, Fubian Zulu and Terrence Mphuting. The team was also full of enterprising youngsters like Noah Kareng, Masego Nchingane, Desmond Hambira, Agisanyang ‘Barcos’ Mosimanegape and Innocent ‘Koti Koti’ Ranku.

After relegation in 2000, GU managed to regroup and fought all the way to the finals only to lose to Mogoditshane Fighters. Many thought GU would find their way back to the Premier League, but it was not to be as they had to wait for five years.

Also a season after being relegated to the First Division, Rollers re-grouped themselves and fought all the way to the finals of 2003 where they lost to Fighters by a solitary goal; they were then under the tutelage of Sonnyboy Sethibe. The game can be remembered after one Rollers player, now at Gaborone, Tshepo Molefhe, refused to be substituted after being influenced by Tshepiso Molwantwa. Rollers then assembled a deadly arsenal that would, two seasons to come, win both the league and the Coca-Cola Cup.

Players like Phenyo Mongala, who is currently causing havoc in South Africa, started to emerge then. Others were Lesego Molemogi and Moemedi Moatlhaping. There were only two experienced players, Mmoni ‘States’ Segopolo and Molwantwa.

Segopolo, who was a renowned striker, was then calling the shots from the back.

The big question of interest is whether there will ever be any First Division side to win the tournament this year or they will just falter as has been the case in past years.

The tournament has already reached its climax since Premier League teams have started participating.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.