For many years, Botswana football was reduced to a laughing stock in the African continent, earning themselves the nickname, ?The whipping boys of Africa.? Let it be youth teams, clubs or the senior national team; there was no difference, as teams used to be heavily defeated, whether at home or away. The depression caused by the defeats seems to be slowly lifting. It looks as if it?s only a matter of time before greater historic developments are felt in Botswana.
The Under 23 team is on course and many Batswana have high hopes in them. Already the team has made some historical achievements that have never been seen before in the country. Currently, the Under 23 team is just a step away from the All Africa Games, something that has never happened before in the country. None of their predecessors came as close as this. The team moved closer after defeating Angola, a country that has always been Botswana?s festering sore. Traditionally, Angola has always brushed aside Botswana football teams, but it was a different story last week when Botswana won the game 4-3 on penalties in Luanda.
Even the horrendous treatment Angola accorded Botswana did not deter the boys to advance to the last stage. On their arrival, the Young Zebras were booked into a sub-standard hotel that left a lot to be desired. The officiating of the game was even more appalling. But the youngsters soldiered on like real ambassadors and beat a team that comprised of mainly foreign based players. The Angolan team is also being groomed for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations that Angola will be hosting. The results of the game indicate how grown and determined the team has become and their next opponent, South Africa, might also be the next casualty. Botswana plays South Africa either on March 31 or April 1, 2007 at Olympia Park Stadium in Rustenburg. Since Rustenburg is about 200 kilometers from Botswana, local supporters might attend the game in droves to give the team moral support.
South Africans are also reported to be panicking because most of their players might not be released for the game because it falls outside the FIFA calendar. What exacerbates the matters for South Africa is that the game will be played at a time when the league?s temperatures would be reaching boiling point. Those players from teams fighting for honours and those trying to avoid relegation are the ones that might not be releasing the players for the Botswana game.
Nevertheless, the Botswana team has expressed confidence in defeating South Africa even though they will be missing the services of two inspirational players, Jerome Ramatlhakwane and Gabriel Bokhutlo. Ramatlhakwane got his matching orders in the second game in Angola while Bokhutlo got his in Botswana. Bokhutlo would, however, be available in the second game. The team believes that since the senior team defeated South Africa last year during the COSAFA Castle Cup they, too, can do the same.
Goalkeeper, Noah Maposa told The Sunday Standard that the ill-treatment Angola meted out on them showed what kind of a team they are made of. He said they will also fight hard against South Africa and make their maiden appearance for the games that will be held in Algeria in June.
?In Angola it was tough, especially when we went for the penalty shootouts. I told the guys that I would try by all means to save the penalties and urged them to score. We ended up winning even though the referee was always intimidating and robbing us in day light. Looking at how difficult things were in Angola, I think we will do something against South Africa,? he said.
The technical officer of the Botswana Football Association, Losika Keatlholetse, told The Sunday Standard that although the boys are on course for a historic achievement, they must not be put under excessive pressure because that might backfire. He said the team must be let to play their normal game and might even pull a surprise.
Before meeting South Africa, the Under 23s will host Tunisia in an Olympic qualifying encounter this coming Thursday (March22) at the National Stadium. Both teams played to a one all draw in the first game. The game was also reported to have been marred by biased officiating from a Sudanese referee. The technical team believes that if it were not for the referee, they would have come home with a victory. If the young Zebras emerge victorious, it would be historic because the North African teams have always dominated African soccer.