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Popa’s assault on Africa

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Popa's assault on Africa
THE HOST: Rollers player, Edwin Olerile, in action during their previous encounter with Jwaneng Galaxy

The Best of Botswana face the Sultans of Sudan

Township Rollers will be hoping to transfer their domestic dominance to the international stage when they take on Sudan’s Al Merrikh in the preliminary round of the CAF Champions League on Saturday.

The defending BTC Premier League Champions host the Sudanese sultans at the National Stadium in the all important home-leg.

Rollers will then travel 6,340km to the Sudanese city of Omdurman for the return leg, scheduled for either the 20th or 21st of February.

Al Merrikh, who have won the Sudanese League 16 times, rarely lose at their 43, 000 capacity stadium. Indeed, in their last 12 home games, ‘The Red Devils’ have won 11 and drawn one, scoring 37 goals and conceding just eight in the process.

Considering this intimidating backdrop, it is essential Popa take a lead to North Africa if they are to avoid a repeat of 2017’s CAF disaster when they were dumped out of Africa’s premier club competition at the first time of asking.

Last year Mapalastina failed to overcome Madagascan minnows, CNaPS, drawing the two-legged tie 4-4 but suffering elimination by virtue of away goals having conceded twice at home.

However in Al Merrikh, Rollers are up against a formidable foe. Founded in 1908, The Red Devils are currently ranked as the 5th best team in Africa and have successfully made it past the preliminary rounds of the Champions League – a competition they won in 1989 – for the last 19 years.

Despite this rich history, the club are in the midst of a mini-crisis, with seven key players recently leaving due to an apparent dispute over unpaid wages.

Having been piped to the title (by a single point) to their fierce local rivals Al Hilal last season, Al Merrikh recently hired a new coach, who will take charge of the club for the first time against Rollers.

The North Africans are due to land in Gaborone this Thursday and will have precious little time to acclimatise before facing a Rollers side brimming with confidence after making the Mascom Top 8 final last week.

Popa will go into their biggest game of the season to date without strikers Joel Mogorosi and Mthokozisi Msomi who have been suspended from Botswana Football activities for misconduct.

Popa's assault on Africa
READY: Township Rollers squad

Their case is pending before Botswana Premier League Disciplinary Committee.

As part of their preparations, Rollers technical team and players analysed their Top 8 semi final performance against Galaxy to identify and then rectify any obvious weaknesses.

The technical team also watched videos of their opponent’s past games to work on their tactics and game approach. Popa also sent a delegation to Sudan at the beginning of the year to spy on Al Merrikh.

Rollers General Manager Sydney Magagane told Voice Sport that they went to Sudan to see the facilities they will be using in the second leg and work around other necessary logistics.

He said they are ready to host the Devils, adding that most of the Rollers squad have played in CAF games before so they know exactly what to expect.

“From what we gathered the new development is that our opponents parted ways with about seven of their key players and they have hired a new coach from Portugal. They have five of their players playing for national team.

“Playing a team you do not know is always a challenge but all we have to do is to make sure we do not concede. They might be a different team from the one we previously watched, playing with new style of play but I believe we can defeat them,” said Magagane, stressing that Al Merrikh qualify for CAF every year because there is not much competition in their league.

He noted that Al Merrikh like to play short passes but that Rollers had prepared well to match them.

The General Manager urged the club’s supporters and those from other teams to attend the game in large numbers to boost their morale as they represent the nation.