Botswana’s senior national team, Zebras will this weekend face their most important encounter against West African side, Guinea Bissau for the qualifications of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). It is important for Botswana to win the match, which will be played on Saturday at the National Stadium, with a convincing margin so that they would not be under too much pressure in the second leg encounter away to Guinea Bissau.
A victory for Zebras will pit them against some of Africa’s power houses like Senegal, Tunisia and Egypt in Group G. Botswana has shockingly defeated Egypt and Tunisia before and their biggest problem would be against Senegal, primarily because the Zebras have in the past struggled against West African teams. Guinea Bissau will not be too much of a problem for the Zebras because they have never really been exposed at the highest level of African competitions. For many years the country did not even take part in the qualifiers for major tournaments. They are currently ranked 134th in the FIFA world rankings, 42 places below Botswana.
However, Zebras should not be duped by Guinea Bissau’s lower ranking because it means very little in the field of play. Though they are relative minnows in Africa football, Guinea Bissau have a number of players plying their trade in Europe, particularly their former colonial masters, Portugal. If most of them are available for the match, they could be a thorn on the side for the Zebras. The match is also very vital for coach, James Peter Butler who needs to cement his authority after taking over as Zebras coach recently. It is important for Butler to elevate his image before the Zebras face the more powerful forces of Africa football.
In the first match against Burundi in Bujumbura, Zebras started on a low note but fought hard to win the second encounter by a solo goal at home. The inclusion of more experienced players in the second encounter garnered the win for Zebras. A loss to Guinea Bissau would be a big blow for Butler because that would mean the Zebras will be inactive for some time, which would affect their ranking. The good news for the Zebras is that veteran Mogogi Gabonamong will be part of the team after smoking the peace pipe with the coach. Mogogi has done a lot for Zebras and he is one those players who never buckle under pressure. His compatriot, Joel Mogorosi has also given his all in the games he has played for Zebras.
Most of the players who are in camp currently are locally based and those who are based in South Africa are still with their clubs for pre-season training. It was not yet clear by press time whether they will all be available. The match falls outside the FIFA calendar and clubs are not forced to release the players. Against Burundi, Polokwane City player Galabwe Moyana was not available for national duty because his team was battling to evade relegation.