Many Batswana have a hope that the Zebras will progress beyond the group stages at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial.
This is due to the fact that the Zebras had an impressive qualification and even finished on top of Group K.
But it will not be easy at all and it will be a matter of life and death compared to the qualifiers when Botswana edged out strong African countries like Tunisia and Togo.
It might not have been easy during the qualifiers but defeating a country like Tunisia was something that was not on the cards. Two years before the qualifiers, Botswana had a very strong Under 23 that went to the extent of defeating Morocco and Tunisia for the 2008 Olympics. Most of the players for both Tunisia and Botswana were from that Under 23 group that was under Major David Bright.
But the AFCON group D, in which Botswana has been placed, also has a trio of West African nations that could prove to be too strong for a country that is making its maiden appearance.
Botswana has been pitted against two-time World Cup finalists, Ghana’s Black Stars, Syli National (National Elephant) of Guinea and Les Aigles (The Eagles) of Mali.
The history of the Zebras has proven that they have never had it easy against West African nations that are physically stronger. Botswana has played against Mali and Guinea in the past and lost all the matches by wide margins.
The Zebras only played against Ghana about twenty years ago in an Independence friendly and played to a goalless draw. The last time Botswana played Mali was in 1996 for the 1998 AFCON that was held in Burkina Faso. Mali won 3-1 in Botswana and had a field day at home, winning 5-1. Botswana’s consolation goal by then was scored by Itumeleng Tumie Duiker of Extension Gunners.
Guinea also played Botswana the same year, winning by a solitary goal in Gaborone and winning 4-0 in Conakry. During the double qualifications for both the 2006 World Cup and AFCON Botswana was in the same group as Guinea again and Guinea collected maximum points from both encounters. In Conakry, Guinea won 4-0 while in Botswana they won 2-1. I
Guinea scored their two goals in the last 15 minutes through a brace from Ousman Bangoura.
The Zebras took the lead early in the first half via Tshepiso Molwanta and failed to protect it. Just three years ago Botswana played against another West African country, Ivory Coast for AFCON qualifying and lost 4-0 in Abidjan after playing to a one-all draw at home.
All Botswana’s three opponents also boast of a wealth of experience among their players who mainly play in Europe with some of them playing for major teams.
Prominent players for Ghana include the likes of Michael Essien and John Mensah who play for both Chelsea and Sunderland. Mali have the likes of Seydou Keita who plays for Spanish giants FC Barcelona and Mahamaduo Diarra who has just left Spanish giants Real Madrid for France.
Botswana will play their first and second matches in Masuku, also known as Franceville, which is Gabon’s second biggest city.
It will play against Ghana on January 24 and, four days later, will lock horns against Guinea.
On the first day of February, they will wrap up their group stages against Guinea in the Capital, Libreville.
Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Senegal, Zambia
Angola, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Burkina Faso
Morocco, Tunisia, Gabon, Niger
Botswana, Ghana, Guinea, Mali