ROLLERS CAF CAMPAIGN ON A KNIFE EDGE
Down but definitely not out, Township Rollers will host Madagascan champions CNaPS Sport in the second-leg of the preliminary round of the CAF Champions League on Saturday.
Both teams have a realistic chance of progression after the first-leg ended 2-1 to CNaPS in an absorbing match played on a brutally hot Saturday afternoon in Antananarivo.
Popa will take heart from the heat, with the knowledge that despite being far from their best, they were able to match their illustrious islander opponents.
Indeed Mapalastina could, and perhaps should, have emerged from last week’s encounter with a draw after their giant Senegalese striker, Pape Abdoulaye Ndaw missed a guilt edged chance to level the tie in the dying seconds of the game.
They do have the consolation of a crucial away goal however, courtesy of second-half substitute Segelame Boy’s astute finish.
Boy’s 60th minute strike, which temporarily levelled the tie, means that a 1-0 win would be enough for Popa to progress to the first round proper of the continental competition.
If Rollers can overcome CNaPS, they could potentially meet Cameroon giants Coton Sport in the next round. Coton take a commanding 2-0 lead into the second-leg of their encounter with South Sudan’s Atlabara.
Despite the magnitude of Saturday’s match, Rollers seemingly unflappable head coach, Teenage Mpote was typically relaxed when Voice Sport spoke to him on Wednesday.
While he was keen to praise CNaPS, describing them as a ‘good team’, Mpote was optimistic his troops could overturn the first-leg deficit.
Reflecting on the closely contested first meeting, a proud Mpote said, “90 per cent of their squad play for the national team.
They have a massive following back home but my players remained focused and were not intimidated by this.
“The game plan was to contain our opponents before having a go at them in search of an away goal or two. It was so unfortunate that we failed to covert at least three goals in the chances we had but it was because we were still trying to study them,” explained Mpote wistfully.
The Rollers gaffer believes the 2pm kick-off time, and the oppressive midday heat that accompanied it, had an adverse effect on his side.
“We are unaccustomed to playing in such conditions whereas our opponents are used to it,” he said, although he refused to use it as an excuse for the defeat.
In his analysis of the Madagascan champions, Mpote noted they have a strong midfield and defence and were extremely composed on the ball.
Nevertheless, Mpote remains supremely confident that, if they execute their game plan, Mapalastina will win the decisive return meeting.
He stressed that, unlike in the initial fixture, his players now knew exactly what to expect and understood their opponent’s style of play.
“An away goal can only work as an advantage if we compete and play well. We have home ground advantage but we should not get carried away. Football is all about tactical discipline.
“We should not aim for a solitary goal – we need to go all out and play as if we have not scored an away goal. Our intention is to score as many goals as we can but playing with caution and not forgetting to defend,” was Mpote’s fighting assessment.
To add to Mpote’s confidence, he will have a full-strength squad to pick from as Rollers go all out for African glory in Saturday’s four o’clock kick off at the National Stadium.
Tickets are sold at P100 grandstand, P40 panda and P30 north and south stands.
With the game precariously balanced on a knife edge, it is truly do or die time for Botswana’s reigning champions – they will not get another chance.