Sunday, September 20, 2020

AFCON 2008: a valuable lesson for Botswana

The three week long AFCON is coming to an end today (Sunday) and once again Egypt will be in the finals for the second time in a row. The Pharoas will also be looking forward to making history by clinching the tournament for the sixth time. Once that could be the case, it would take ages for other African countries to break the record.
Nevertheless, another African giant, Cameroon, would want to equal the Pharoahs record. One thing that, however, stands out is the fact that Egypt struggled to qualify and the thorn in their flesh was Botswana. Botswana might be very low in the FIFA rankings compared to Egypt, but the Egyptian coach might be praying day and night that God finally answered his prayers as Botswana nearly destroyed his future with the team. Botswana held the defending champions to a goalless draw in Gaborone before losing 1-0 in Egypt.

It took the Egyptians about ten minutes before full time to be sure of their qualification for the 2008 tournament. History was nearly written had Botswana converted what looked like an obvious chance just before the Egyptians scored the only goal of the day. Egypt and Botswana might be incomparable in terms of quality and facilities but it looks like Botswana can make their mark at AFCON if they can qualify. Almost all the current Egyptian players taking Ghana by storm are the same players Botswana gave a run for their money. Players like one of the leading goal scorers Ahmed Zaky, striker Zidan, midfield dynamo, Aboutrika and even goalkeeper El Hadary know Botswana well.

Zidan, demolished Cameroon in the group stages with two excellent goals from the four goals Egypt scored. He also tried all his knowledge of football against Botswana but to little avail and was, in turn, substituted towards the end. After Egypt walloped favourites and star-studded Ivory Coast on Thursday night in the semifinals, it proved that Botswana can also make a huge mark against the Ivorians. The two teams are in the same group of the 2010 AFCON and the World Cup. Even players from some of the countries that Botswana gave a tough time were also a marvel to watch at the tournament. For instance, Angola made more history by qualifying for the group stages for the first time in their soccer history. The player from Angola who was actually the talk of Ghana was Manucho who has already been signed by giants, Manchester United. It can be noted that the very same Manucho was reduced to an ordinary player when Botswana played Angola during last year’s COSAFA cup. He tried all his tricks but Botswana defenders tamed him until he was substituted and Botswana won the game 3-1 after a penalty shootout. At the 2008 AFCON, Manucho scored two spectacular goals against neighbours South Africa and even Egypt.

Against South Africa he scored a powerful header that did not give South African goalie a chance at all. His equalising goal against Egypt in the quarter finals still stands out as one of the best goals of the tournament. He took a long powerful shot outside the box and El Hadary only heard noise of the die hard Angolan supporters. On the other hand, another tournament favourites, Tunisia, had one enterprising player, Yassime Chikhaoui, who once was also not given any breathing space by Botswana’s Under 23 in the Olympic qualifying games at the National Stadium. Tunisia was knocked out by finalist Cameroon in the quarterfinals but they played really well. Chikhaoui even scored some beautiful goals, especially his equalizer against Cameroon in the quarterfinals. Chikhaoui, who plays in Switzerland and is now a target of many European teams, was also tightly marked at the National Stadium and cried like a baby after the game. Players like Gabriel Bokhutlo, Mosimanegape Ramohibidu and Musa Ohilwe were always all over him because he was a real threat. Despite being about 1.9 meters tall, Botswana’s national Under 23 players were not deterred and he did not find the back of the net. Chikokai managed to ripple many defenders at AFCON, especially with his pace, physique and skill.

Another outstanding player at AFCON, who was also once given a torrid time by Botswana’s Under 23 is Ghana captain, John Mensah. Mensah was part of the Ghana squad at the Sasol Eight Nations tournament last year in South Africa but Botswana managed to beat them 1-0 in the semifinals. Currently, the senior Ghana team did not qualify for the finals for what many soccer experts say was mainly for Mensah’s absence. But in South Africa, youthful Botswana players like Tebogo Sembowa and Kaone Molefhe were too fast for him to handle. Although Botswana did not qualify for the 2008 AFCON and the Olympics ticket, the country is ready to take on the so-called big African countries provided the necessary support needed is there.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.