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TOP 8: THE RETURN

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Orapa United have their sights squarely on the 2015/16 Mascom Top 8 trophy, and as they invade Extension Gunners’ territory this Friday at the National Stadium for their second leg of the quarter final encounter, nothing but victory will satisfy their ambitious plans.

The two sides played to a one-all draw in the first leg encounter played at the Itekeng Stadium in Orapa three weeks ago. Of all the eight teams competing for the P1 200 000 prize money after only five games, it is the Ostriches of Orapa who are the hungrier for success as also seen in their league performance.

Ever since arriving in the premier league some three seasons back, the Ostriches have gone from strength to strength, and in the process pulled upset after upset over bigger rivals already accustomed with premiership life for years – Gunners included. As things stand, Orapa United know that they stand a better chance of winning their first trophy in the form of the Mascom Top 8 than with the marathon full year league competition that demands stamina and enduring consistency.

Label them ‘dark horses’ or ‘wild card’ at your own peril, the Ostriches are in for the kill, and their previous impressive results against the big guns of the elite league can attest to their credentials as potent challengers to the ‘Tse Di Tona’ title. Owing to the previous upsets they have meted on the teams in this competition, they actually have a realistic chance of winning the lucrative cup. Their first hurdle to this cup glory comes in the form of Gunners whose plummeting form will be very encouraging to the team from the diamond mining town.

When the two meet, the Ostriches who once again have been on scintillating form once this season, will deploy their entire attacking prowess to overwhelm a vulnerable Gunners who have not known victory for time immemorial now. Internal strife at the Lobatse outfit has not been helpful to the metal state of the players and United may need little resources to push them aside the scoring ability of Thabang Sesinyi as well as the experience of both Patrick Lenyeletse and Patrick Motsepe. Besides, the Orapa lads this time have yet another ace up their sleeves in the form of   multiple championship winning headcoach Madinda Ndlovu.

The Zimbabwean coach knows a lot about winning championships, albeit with big clubs. Ndlovu’s storied career in Botswana has seen him coach big clubs like Mochudi Centre Chiefs and Township Rollers to championship glory and such experience may also be enough to see his Ostriches go easily past the Gunners who are clearly out of sorts lately. With his eyes set on the gratification of carrying his winning exploits to a relatively new team, Ndlovu most likely employ an attacking formation to breach the somewhat miserly Mapantsula defence that despite their string of losses, has given away very little.
The Ostriches’ spokesperson Tebalo Hule made it clear that his team was in the Top 8 to win the coveted trophy and not just to participate. “We believe we have the right squad for the job and we   have no pressure at all. We have played against most of the teams in the tournament and we have done well in the encounters, thus our confidence,” he said.

Hule attributed the team’s recent good run and success to good administration. “We try by all means to be organised and make sure that the teams’ welfare is taken care of, including both transport and accommodation.”also, Hule said the team’s support base has grown tremendously as they manage to fill up their home stadium whenever they host games. “The support base is important for motivating the players, we hope to see them fill up the away stadium when we play Gunners.”

Gunners on the other hand might just find themselves in a pleasant moment to turn their fortunes around, and the Ostriches are better warned to tread with care as wounded predators are often the most dangerous. The players at the Lobatse outfit may also be extra-motivated by knowing what is at stake as their club has been struggling to pay them. Veteran coach Daniel ‘Chico’ Nare recently replaced former headcoach Keitumetse ‘Pio’ Paul and he is still looking for his first victory at the club although a goalless draw will be enough to see his Gunners proceed to the semi-finals on the away–goal rule.

The match will herald the start of an eventful weekend where on Saturday another second leg quarter final match will see BDF XI will take on Gaborone United at the Molepolole Sports Complex. Matebele come into the game with a 1-0 advantage that could see them send the defending champions down the exit door. The third quarter final encounter pits Township Rollers with Police XI at the Molepolole Sports Complex on Sunday. Rollers won the first leg in An awesome 4-2 comeback thriller following the cops’ early 2-0 lead. The stage concludes on Monday evening, still at the Molepolole Sports Complex, where Mochudi Centre Chiefs will take on Gilport Lions.

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Local hockey body to incur massive financial loss post Covid-19

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Botswana Hockey Association (BHA) President Unaswi Matebu has confessed that her Association will suffer major financial losses post the Covid 19 pandemic that has left the sport fraternity at a standstill.

Matebu recently told this publication that the current situation does not only have tremendous effects on their schedule, but also there will be financial implications more especially that the association does not have full time sponsors.

“We had to cancel most of our calendar activities such as tournaments, national team trainings, Board meetings, and club activities since mid-March this year, all of which have cost us money to prepare for,” Matebu remarked in an interview.

Additionally she said the planning phase for their 5-year Development Plan which was supposed to be launched in June will have to be postponed. Also there are national competitions that were postponed till further notice despite them having already set up teams and having already started preparing.

“Our Indoor Hockey Senior National teams had already started preparations for the Africa Cup of Nations – a World Cup qualifier – that was supposed to be held in June, 2020, in South Africa. Our Field Hockey Senior National teams had already begun preparations for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that were supposed to be held in August, 2020 in Zimbabwe,” she added.

Moreover, it was going to be an excessively detailed and decorated year  for local hockey governing body, with the Youth National teams having  already began preparations for the Africa Youth Championships that were billed for September, 2020, in Ghana.

“Player conditioning has obviously been affected because athletes are currently not training as planned and what we had achieved so far might go to waste. We are only hoping that the Continental and World Hockey governing bodies will give us enough time to prepare for these competitions post the pandemic.”

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BFA will not declare the season null and void – yet

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Amidst wide spreading fears that Botswana’s top flight league might be canceled and considered null and void because of the crippling Covid-19 pandemic, the Botswana Football Association (BFA) has yet to make a determination on the matter and has in fact ruled out scrapping off the season altogether.

Local football observers and pundits alike have already started talking of the possibilities after similar considerations of nullifying their seasons were made in the leagues of other countries especially in Europe.  No football activity has taken place in the country since social distancing measures were imposed to avoid the spread of the corona virus.

Local football pundit Fabian Zulu is one of those who believe there is a likelihood the football season will be nullified. “If the current situation persists, then there is a high possibility of declaring the league null and void. This situation wasn’t planned, no one knew that by now we would be facing this kind of situation; so the possibility is very high.

However, in an interview this week, BFA spokesperson Tumo Mpatane said the association has not considered canceling and nullifying the season as an option yet, adding that “currently we are observing a period of extreme social distancing, the ministry  of health and wellness will obviously give advice on the possibility of getting back to football.”

Consequently the BFA still awaits the Ministry to declare that the risks of spreading the virus are reduced and come up with a contingency plan. “If the ministry says there is a reduced health risk we will play out the season; if they advise against it we will then see what steps to take. The health of our players is more important and we will be guided by the responsive authorities,” Mpatane remarked.

However, suspension or cancellation of the leagues across the world seems inevitable even as some European leagues, more specifically the English Premier League, are now contemplating a behind-closed-doors campaign to finish off the remaining matches.

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