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Why Does Botswana Have More Willing Amakhosi?

It may not have been by the margin that Stuart Baxter will have been hoping for, but Kaizer Chiefs are into the next round of the CAF Champions League after their win in Botswana over the weekend. 
However, my question is this… Why were there more Chiefs fans in the National Stadium in Gaborone than there are at FNB Stadium on a weekly basis?
I was lucky enough to be in Gaborone for Chiefs’ game against Township Rollers and, I’ll be honest, it was one of the most vibrant atmospheres I’ve encountered at a football game in a long time.
The crowd were in full voice, singing and dancing. There were cheerleaders adding to the vibe, and, for the first time in my life, I saw more away jerseys than home ones.
Granted, Mzansi isn’t too far from Botswana. I met a number of Amakhosi fans who, like me, drove up and over the border for the game, but not half a stadium full!
It’s nothing new that Johannesburg has an attendance problem. When a team that is flying at the top of the league can’t get a decent crowd, then you know there’s a serious problem.
There were probably more Township Rollers fans at the home leg of the CCL tie, and more Chiefs fans at the second leg. What does that say about Jo’burg’s supporters? 
I’m not sure what more Stuart Baxter’s team has to do to get bums on seats. At one stage they had the longest unbeaten run of any of the world’s top 31 leagues, they’d scored more than any other PSL team and were top of the Absa Premiership, yet they couldn’t get more than a few thousand people into the FNB Stadium. 
Then, for the Glamour Boys’ Jo’burg based fans to be shown by foreign based Amakhosi fans how to fill a stadium and get behind your team in a foreign country, well, that just takes the biscuit. I can’t imagine how the players must feel. It’s completely baffling to me.
Anyway, the game itself was exactly what I expected. Having spoken to Baxter recently about his approach to the CCL, it was no surprise to see him go for an early goal and demand a professional, tactically sound performance from his boys. It was hot and it was humid. I was sweating just watching from the stands.
He got what he asked for and once Siyabonga Nkosi opened the scoring, the tie was never in doubt. Rollers were never going to get three goals back and, just to be sure of it, Baxter saw off the tie by bringing on a third centre back. 
Chiefs controlled the majority of the game and never really looked in real trouble other than for a short period in the second half, and even then it didn’t look like the result was ever in doubt. 
When I chatted to Baxter, he told me that this year he will be approaching away games in the tournament with more caution, and, rather than taking the game to the opposition, he would possibly look to gain a more modest result away from home and get the majority of the work done in SA. 
While Rollers fought hard and acquitted themselves well against Chiefs, by Baxter’s own admission, the 3-1 final aggregate result wasn’t as high as it should have been. He, understandably, wanted a more convincing result at home. 
However, like Mamelodi Sundowns, his side got the job done and now find themselves up and over the first hurdle on their quest to becoming the champions of Africa. 
Three of South Africa’s four CAF inter-club participants will be taking part in the next round of the Champions League and Confederation Cup tournaments… the less said about Wits’ capitulation the better. 
I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong, and I was drastically wrong about Wits. I thought that they had the easiest job over the weekend – Chiefs’ 2-1 situation was dangerous, Sundowns’ 1-1 less so, but the Clever Boys’ 3-0 lead should have been more than enough to see them through against Swaziland’s Royal Leopards. Apparently not… 
Now it’s Raja Casablanca next up for Chiefs. Sundowns face TP Mazembe and Orlando Pirates, who enter the tournament at the next round, face Uganda’s URA. Hopefully the three of them can continue to push on and make sure that Pirates’ hard work in 2013 wasn’t in vain.
African competition is good for the players, good for the PSL and good for Bafana. I really hope that the South African representation can eradicate some of the continent’s views of SA football and that Mzansi can once again become a force to be reckoned with. 
Finally, as I finish off this column, I want to extend a massive thank you to the folks that I met in Botswana. Never have I met a more collectively nice, honest and lovely people. The football scene in Bots is growing and growing fast. I genuinely hope that they continue to expand as a football nation, because they deserve to.  
Just one qualm, though… next time I visit it’d be nice to get my hands on a Botswana national team jersey. This time around I could only find Chiefs and Sundowns jerseys. Go figure…


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