The Zebras arrived in Gaborone on Friday afternoon to a stunning welcome, as thousands of fans clad in national colours went agog, streaming into the roads and bringing the capital to a standstill.
Earlier, Zebra’s fanatics had thronged to the Sir Seretse Khama Airport to welcome the team that had opened a new book in history by qualifying for the 2012 African Nations Cup to be held in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
By beating Chad 1-0 in the Group K match played in N’djamena last weekend, the Zebras brought an eruption of football joy across Botswana. At the airport, Batswana broke out in song and dance.
The sound of vuvuzelas blared all around and passengers boarding international flights stopped to look in bemusement at the scene of the celebrations. Though the Botswana Football Association (BFA) appealed to Batswana not to go to the airport, the supporters did not heed the call as they came in large numbers.
Others had to watch to watch their stars arriving through the perimeter fence as the police could not allow them entry to the VIP Lounge where the players were to be addressed by the minister of Youth, Sport and Culture Shaw Kgathi. When the Zebras made a public appearance, the supporters could not hold their excitement. And the players responded by waving, much to the delight of those who thronged the airport. There was joy written all over the face of coach Stanley Tshosane who many had doubted when he was appointed to head the team through the qualifiers.
On the team’s arrival, his name rang out from the lips of countless fans. Along the streets of Gaborone, Batswana showed their appreciation to the team as some along the route rushed out of their houses to applaud the country’s heroes.
Some youngsters were seen with the national flags. At the Notwane grounds, there were hundreds of supporters who braved the heat to welcome their stars. It was an experience which many supporters said shall forever remain in their minds. After many years of attempts, the Zebras finally qualified for the continental showpiece, paying six games without defeat enroute.
The two remaining games, against Malawi and Togo, will draw the curtain on a remarkable journey for the Zebras. Welcoming the Zebras at their airport, minister Kgathi thanked the team for putting the country on the map and assured them that his ministry would do its utmost to ensure that they succeed in their future assignments.
“As the Botswana Government, we’re already looking ahead and we promise that we’ll give you all the necessary support to prepare for the tournament. We have confidence that you’ll do the country proud by lifting the cup (AFCON). There is no doubt that God was with you all along and we’re grateful,” said Kgathi who was accompanied top Government officials. Recently, his government announced that they would reward the coaching staff and players with P20, 000 each and P10, 000 for other members of the technical team.
BFA president David Fani told the supporters who were at Notwane grounds that the technical team has assured him that they intend to finish the qualifiers without a defeat.
The statement was met by approval from the supporters. The Zebras host Malawi in Gaborone in June, a game which the technical team has promised to take seriously despite qualifying.
Fani thanked the Government, Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) and other stakeholders for the support they have given his association throughout the campaign.
Team manager Patrick Zibochwa told Sunday Standard in a separate interview that they have always had confidence of qualifying. He added that they were aware that some people had doubts but it is the spirit which was in the camp which ensured that they go all the way.
“We’re more like a family and this has kept us going strong. The mental strength of the team also helped a lot because they never complained where unnecessary,” said Zibochwa.
President Ian Khama will host the Zebras on April 8.