Rollers and Orapa meet again in Top 8 final
There will be a definite sense of déjà vu when two old foes meet in the Mascom Top 8 final at the Francistown Sports Complex today (Saturday).
When it comes to the coveted cup, Township Rollers and Orapa United have history.
It is a history that Orapa have dominated, winning all three previous meetings and knocking Rollers out of the tournament in the last two seasons.
The first of those famous fixtures was back in the 2016 final, when the Ostriches came from behind to stun Popa, winning a 3-1 thriller to clinch their maiden Top 8 crown.
The two sides met again the following season, this time in the semi-finals, and it was the Oranges who once again emerged victorious, winning the two-legged tie 2-1 and 2-0 to send the Blues tumbling out of the cup.
Orapa would go on to lose against an inspired Jwaneng Galaxy side in the final, falling 4-3 to their mining town brother’s in an incident-packed game that went to extra time and saw Galaxy reduced to 10 men.
The boys from Boteti qualified for Saturday’s showpiece finale – their third in a row – by thrashing Gaborone United 5-1 on aggregate (1-0 and 4-1).
Orapa’s scintillating cup performances are in stark contrast to their patchy league form, which has seen then drop to 13 points behind table-topping Rollers.
The club’s recently recruited coach, Bongani Mafu readily admitted that the league is now out of reach but stressed this makes the Top 8 even more important to his side.
“This is going to be a difficult and exciting game and we will execute our plan wisely to win the game,” he told Voice Sport, adding that the club are desperate to qualify for the CAF Confederations Cup after missing out on this season’s competition.
“My assistant Chico Nare has done well to take the team this far and I will be happy to see him winning it. I want him to be the coach of the tournament so I will give him all the necessary support to make that a reality. We have the best squad that can match our opponents. We prepared thoroughly this week, everyone was involved and I believe my boys will make us happy,” Mafu continued confidently.
The Zimbabwean gaffer revealed that centre forward Omaatla Dunga Kebatho is carrying a knock and is a doubt for the final. However, the club’s experienced goalkeeper Mosimanegape Robert, who played an influential part in Orapa’s 2016 triumph over Rollers, has fully recovered from injury and could be selected.
For Rollers, today’s fixture comes at an inconvenient time, with the shadow of Tuesday’s CAF Champions League against Tanzania’s Young Africans SC looming large in the background.
Immediately after the match, Mapalastina will travel back to Gaborone for an early morning Sunday flight to Der es Salaam for what is arguably the biggest game in the club’s proud history.
Indeed, Rollers Coach Nikola Kavazovic told Voice Sport he had expected the game to be moved to another date to give Popa more time to prepare for Young Africans.
Despite this obvious distraction, P1.3 million is still up for grabs and Rollers will be desperate to add to their sole Top 8 title, won six years ago when they beat Ecco City Greens 3-1.
“I know what I can expect from Orapa. They are very good on counter attack and if we have to win that game we must be very careful not to allow them to hold the ball. We cannot dwell on the past result when they defeated us 3-1 in 2016 final. This is a totally new team, new approach and model of play,” said Kavazovic.
Both teams have experienced the ecstasy of winning the Top 8 as well as the devastation of losing in the final; both teams will experience the same emotions again today– but who will be feeling what?