Tuesday, October 20, 2020

2010 is the Year of the Botswana Zebras!

The year 2010 undoubtedly belongs to none other than the national soccer team, the Zebras.
The Zebras came, conquered and stunned the world.

Many soccer pundits around the world cannot believe the fact that African soccer giants, Tunisia and Togo, might not make it to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) mainly because of the Zebras.
The Zebras, on the other hand, might make it for the first time in their history and they need only one more victory to achieve that.

The Zebras end 2010 on a high note after rising from position 118 in FIFA rankings at the beginning of the year to an unbelievable 53rd position.

Even the country at large still cannot believe the Zebras exploits.

The historic journey all began in July when the World Cup was in full swing in neighbouring South Africa.
Botswana took a long trip to Tunisia, the team that has been to four World Cups. The match was the first qualifying route to the 2012 AFCON and many people paid little attention to their games because all eyes were on the World Cup.

This was not helped by the fact that many people had already lost hope on the Zebras because they did not perform well in their past immediate matches.

The local press did not even bother to cover the match because it was seen as meaningless because a loss was on the cards.

After it was announced that Botswana won the match, courtesy of Jerome Ramatlhakwane’s goal, many Batswana could still not believe it and even went to the extent of saying it was by sheer luck and Tunisia might have brought their third string team.

Even the Tunisian technical team claimed that they were ill-prepared for the encounter and would slaughter the Zebras in their own backyard for the second leg.

The second qualifying match was against less fancied Chad. Although the Zebras won by a solitary goal from Phenyo Mongala, it was not easy as Chad fought like wounded lions.
The Zebras performance on the day was not appealing to many supporters who thronged the University of Botswana (UB) Stadium and wondered how they beat Tunisia.

After Chad, the Zebras snatched a vital point away against Malawi after undergoing tremendous testing time. The team complained of substandard accommodation that even led to some players succumbing to diarrhea.

The match that definitely left a long lasting impression on Zebras supporters was the 2-1 victory over Togo.

Just four years ago, Togo was at the World Cup.

Even though Togo was technically and tactically more advanced than the Zebras, Botswana’s hunger for victory was evident from the onset.

The Zebras were all over the Togolese, which had a horde of overseas-based players, compared to Botswana’s seven that are all based in South Africa. The match that would be a major turning point was the return leg against Tunisia at UB Stadium last month.

It attracted huge media interest from Tunisia and some major international news agencies. The Tunisian media even outnumbered the local ones. Although the team claimed to have not had some of their regulars due to injuries, they were confident of victory, saying they were well prepared. Come match day, the Zebras were not intimidated as they managed to soak pressure from the much technically advanced Tunisians.

The Zebras, however, ended up winning the encounter by a solitary goal, reminiscent of the first leg because the goal was once again scored by Ramatlhakwane.

That goal took his tally to four, to make him the leading goalscorer in the qualifying matches.
The Tunisians were hugely disappointed by the results and some of them even cried. They knew that their qualification was indeed in danger and that would be a big insult to the football crazy country that always qualifies for almost every AFCON edition.
The double victory by the Zebras against the Tunisians seems to have not been taken kindly by the Tunisian Football Federation because this past week they sacked their French-born coach, Bertrand Marchand.

What is surprising people about the Zebras is that some of the players are not even regulars at club level but when they turn up for national duty they give heroic performances.

The typical example is Ramatlhakwane, who does not even command a regular presence on the bench at his club, Cape Town Santos, who, nevertheless, do not want to sell him but rather want him to extend his contract that is set to expire next year in June.

Already many talent scouts are hovering over the Zebras for players, including their coach.
There are reports that some of the players might be plying their trade in the money rich South African Premier League by January.

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The Telegraph October 21

Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 21, 2020.