Botswana’s national Under 23s’ aspirations to qualify for next year’s Olympics look bumpy, and the team has to triple their efforts if they are to qualify. The Under 23s might have showed great character by holding the reigning All Africa champions to a goalless draw on Wednesday at the National Stadium, but the draw left them with a higher mountain to climb. What has aggravated the situation for Botswana is the fact that Morocco managed to pull a surprise 2-1 victory over Guinea in Conakry. Morocco now leads the group with six points followed by Cameroon with 4. Botswana has only a point while Guinea is yet to register one.
With four games to go before the completion of the qualifying games, Botswana is not supposed to lose even a single game. Even coach Major David Bright is adamant of the mammoth task that lies ahead for him. He, however, said he would fight with all what he has in the coming games.
“As you might have seen, our game plan against Cameroon was attack minded. Unfortunately, we could not get goals. The results have now given us a huge task and we have to really fight because we still have a chance. We are now left with four games and anything can happen,” Bright said.
But Bright also took a swipe at controversial South African referee, Jonas Nhlapo, for dubious officiating. Bright said had Nhlapo given Botswana a penalty towards the end of the first half anything could have happened. Bright said Kaone Molefhe was clearly brought down inside the box and it was surprising the referee turned a blind eye and waved play on.
Nevertheless, retired army major praised the boys for a job well done. He said if they can continue with the same character anything is possible in the coming games.
The Cameroon coach, on the other hand, was taken aback by Botswana’s brilliant play. Ndtougou Mpile Martin told Sunday Standard after the game that Botswana played like seasoned campaigners. He said most of the Botswana players also showed awesome maturity that he always thought was lacking.
“Honestly speaking, when we played them in South Africa I just thought they just rose to the occasion. But they have proved me wrong at the way they matched us. What also surprises me with Botswana players is that none of them is based overseas and that speaks volumes about the level of football development in Botswana. I wish your boys luck and hopefully they will end somewhere,” he said.
Some of Cameroonian players are based in Europe and in Asia where they are playing professional football.
Martin, however, gave a word of caution to Botswana saying they should expect to sweat blood in Cameroon. Martin said Botswana must be prepared for the worst because visitors never easily go out with points. In their first game in Yaounde, Cameroon walloped Guinea 6-1. Botswana, on the other hand, has also proved to be a hard nut to crack when playing away. During the All Africa Games qualifiers, Botswana was exposed to terrible conditions in Angola where officiating was terrible. But they managed to overcome all that and came back with a victory. Botswana also won the Sasol Eight nations tournament in South Africa and even the Four Nations Cup in China. In China it was also reported that the atmosphere was terrible because the Asians attended the games in their droves to cheer their fellow teams while Botswana had nobody except their technical bench.
The Botswana defence, once again marshaled by skipper Musa Ohilwe, stood the test of time and proved that they are the best. Gabriel Bokhutlo, Moreetsi Mosimanyana, and Mosimanegape Ramohibidu thwarted several dangerous balls. Bearing in mind that Cameroon was awash with towering players, that did not deter Botswana defenders and the boys played with distinction. Even Ramohibidu, who was playing in a new role on the left back to replace suspended Boniface Makolo, did well. Goalkeeper Noah Maposa has never been called to make some daring saves as opposed to his Cameronian counterpart who had to be alert most of the times.
Botswana will now be flying to Guinea in about a fortnight to look for the first victory. Guineans on the other hand are wounded buffalos and Botswana must expect the worst. Guinea has lost two of the opening games and might pull up all their punches against Botswana.
Botswana must also pray for a miracle between Morocco and Cameroon. Cameroon must either win or play to a draw. If Morocco wins it would be a severe blow not only to Botswana but also to Cameroon.