Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A real test for young Zebras

Botswana’s national Under 23 team might have made the country proud by winning the Four Nations Asian tournament last week and finishing as the runners up at the Sasol Eight Nations Tournament last month. But they now face a real test against Cameroon for the Olympics qualifying games. Already, Botswana played twice against Cameroon at the Eight Nations tournament winning one game by a solo goal and losing one by the same margin. Botswana won the opening game while they lost the second one during the finals. When the two countries played in the Sasol tournament, Cameroon had their full strength squad except two regular players. The notable absentee from Cameroon was Atangana Barnabe’s, the man who scored an incredible goal against the senior Zebras during the 40th independent celebrations last year.

Cameroon is also fired up after winning the All Africa Games encounter last month having defeated Guinea. What puts the young Zebras under pressure is the fact that they lost their opening game against Morocco by a solitary goal while Cameroon won by a wider margin against Guinea. If the Zebras lose against the young Indomitable Lions, chances of making it to China will be very slim. On the other hand, the coach of the team, Major David Bright, is confident of winning against Cameroon on August 22. He told The Sunday Standard that playing Cameroon twice gave him a greater picture of what to exactly expect from them.

“We played them twice and, as things stand, we both have equal chances of winning. Cameroon is the physically strong side while we are tactically strong and that gives us an advantage. Cameroon players on the other hand do not play as a unit but individually. Even when they attack, it is only one player who does the work and it could be easy to contain them. We are definitely fired up and I am optimistic we will beat them,” Bright said.

Bright even added that their recent impressive performance in China has boasted the players’ morale and added that they are psychologically ready. The former Mogoditshane Fighters and Flamengo Santos coach also stressed that Cameroon would be under tremendous pressure to win because they are a renowned African power house that won several major tournaments. They won the Sydney 2000 Olympics, are two-time All Africa Games winners.

The Young Zebras, on the other hand, will be limping to the game. Left back Boniface Makolo will miss the game due to the marching orders he received in the first game against Morocco. His absence could be a huge blow because the left back positions are normally a headache for Botswana national teams. Nimble footed Phenyo Mongala of Pretoria University and Moemedi ‘Jomo’ Moatlhaping of Silver Stars might not be available for the game. Bright said he is concerned about their level of fitness. He, however, said the team has in the past missed several players due to injuries and suspensions but managed to pull surprise results and it could be the case against Cameroon. Cameroon might give the young Zebras a run for their money because they also know what to expect from them. Several of their overseas based players might also be present in Gaborone. The players whom the young Zebras should really keep an eye on are Uruguay-based Olle lle Alain and Nlend Jean Michel, who is based in Morocco. They gave the young Zebras a torrid time during the Sassol tournament.

Meanwhie, the national Under 23 players are smiling all the way to the bank after getting incentives of more than P10 000 for their recent impressive performances. Each player got himself $1 500 (P9 000) for winning the Asian Four Nations tournament plus a P2 000-incentive from the Vice President Ian Khama. The senior national team players also got P2 000 from the Vice President after progressing to the semifinals of the Council for South Africa Football Associations for the second time in a row.

The incentives from the Vice President came a day after the players were hosted by President Festus Mogae at State House. Mogae applauded the boys for a job well done and said it was incredible for a team like Botswana to outclass soccer power houses. He said beating China, which has more than 1.3 billion people and Korea and Japan which have more than 240 million was even awesome.
Mogae also said the results show that Botswana has finally arrived on the international scene and more is to follow.


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