The best of Botswana meets the crème of Madagascar when Township Rollers take on CNaPS Sports in the preliminary round of the CAF Champions League on Saturday.
The game, which kicks-off at 14:30 local time (13:30 here), marks the start of Rollers African adventure – Popa’s reward for winning last season’s Premier League.
Mapantsula’s last foray into the continental competition was back in 2015, when they were drawn against South African giants Kaiser Chiefs.
Popa showed spirited resistance but ultimately lost the two-legged tie 3-1, crashing out of Africa at the first hurdle.
However, the Blues will be cautiously confident of progressing further this time.
Indeed they go into Saturday’s fixture in scintillating form, having won six on the bounce in the league, conceding just two goals in their last seven league outings.
Popa President Jagdish Shah believes reaching the group stages of the competition is a distinct possibility, although he admitted it would take its toll on the club financially.
“This is not a cheap exercise; this game will cost us close to a million! However, it is very important to compete in these games because we will be representing our country and players will get tremendous experience and exposure,” said Shah.
The Rollers chief gave new head coach, Teenage Mpote his backing, saying, “We put our confidence in our new head coach and we believe with his vast experience he will produce good results,” adding that Mpote deserved his chance to lead the side, having faithfully served as Popa’s assistant coach for the last five years.
A possible point of contention is that Mpote only has a CAF B coaching licence while CAF requires an A licence.
When quizzed on this dilemma, a dismissive Shah was unconcerned, noting that Mpote’s qualifications comply with Botswana Football requirements and thus he would be able to coach in CAF games.
For his part, Mpote revealed he expects an extremely tough game against CNaPS. Mpote and his squad have been studying videos of their opponents in a bid to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Undoubtedly the new coach is right not to underestimate the formidable pedigree of CNaPS.
Reigning champions in their country for the last four years, CNaPS are not used to losing. Additionally, 90 per cent of the squad play for the national team, so Rollers will effectively be playing against Madagascar!
Mapalastina will only leave the country on Friday, giving them precious little time to acclimatise before Saturday’s game, which takes place in the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo.
The return leg is scheduled for 16:00 the following Saturday (18th Feb) at the National Stadium.
Should Rollers emerge victorious they would meet either Cameroon’s Coton Sport or South Sudan’s Atlabara in the first round proper – potentially just 180 minutes away from a maiden appearance at the group stages of the CAF Champions League.
However, they have to overcome CNaPS first!