Last year, Botswana’s national Under 20 team made tremendous progress by advancing to the semi-finals of the Metropolitan COSAFA championships. Since it was the first time in the country’s history, there was a ray of hope that in the upcoming tournaments, Botswana would end up going all the way to the finals and eventually winning the tournament.
This year, it is once again going to be back to the drawing boards because Botswana could not even make it beyond the group stages, despite the fact that Botswana was hosting the tournament, with almost everything to their advantage.
As if that is not enough, the Botswana team is brimming with talent playing for Premier League teams. Almost half of the Under 20 squad is in the Premier League and as such a lot was expected of them.
Of the opening two matches Botswana played, they embarrassingly lost to Zimbabwe by three goals to nil.
They would try to redeem themselves against Swaziland, which they defeated 3-0, but it was too little too late as Zimbabwe topped the group with maximum points and only one team was eligible to make it to the semi-finals.
Head coach of the national Under 20, China Matlhaku, told Sunday Standard that the early exit of his team is not surprising because odds were staked against them.
“It is painful because we are the hosts and bowed out early. But the format used also has a hand. Imagine you have to at least win or draw your first game and if it does not happen, you are ruined. After heavily losing our first match, there was no way for us to progress to the next round, and if we were to play three matches it could have been better,” he said.
Matlhaku also added that lack of preparations for the team also had a huge impact. He said other teams had prepared thoroughly for the tournament and were also helped by the fact that they participated in the African Youth Championships qualifying matches.
“We did not have many international friendly matches compared to our opponents and playing against local teams does not give us much needed practice. Also most of these teams that are playing for COSAFA tournament had a hand in the African Youth Championships and others, like Lesotho, have qualified. Youth teams in Botswana did not take part and it has affected us a lot,” he said. The COSAFA Under 20 tournament came to Botswana for the first time this year after being held consecutively in South Africa for more than ten years. It is seen as one way of identifying talent for the Southern African region.