Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Bright year for Major Bright

The curtain is already falling on the year 2007 and undoubtedly it was an action packed one for Botswana sports. All the attention was, however, on football, especially at international level where Botswana made history that will be remembered for many years to come. Also never before in the history of Botswana national football have teams had hectic schedules such as was the case in 2007. Botswana teams in return did not just participate but competed determinedly because they caused shockwaves around the world. The senior team, the Zebras, for the first time tumbled in the last lap of the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON. The game was always going to be difficult because they played against the reigning African Champions, Egypt, away in Cairo. The Zebras, however, nearly shocked the world because they soldiered on until the last 12 minutes of the game when the Egyptians scored the only goal of the game. Despite such feat, the team that is on the lips of many soccer followers is the national Under 23. The Dream Team, as they were affectionately called, achieved what has always been a pipe dream for the country. The brains behind all the success was none other than the retired army general, Major David Bright. He proved to the world that he is the greatest coach this country has ever produced. Despite being roped in at the last minute following the untimely death of his predecessor, Banks Panene, Bright stood firm and achieved unparalleled success.

It all started against Angola for the All Africa games at the National Stadium when Botswana won 2-0. It was a time many Batswana watched the potential talent the country posses. The game launched careers of players like Mosimanyana Moreetsi, who was then playing in the second division. Despite playing his first top flight game, he mesmerised many people with his no nonsense tackles that put at bay naturally physically tough Angolan players. Botswana won the last leg on penalties only to be knocked out by South Africa with an avalanche of goals. Botswana lost the first and second leg with a 4-0 aggregate and South Africa qualified. Bright was, however, not fazed by the South African defeat and waited for Tunisia for the group stages qualification games. In the first game, Botswana shocked the Tunisians by holding them to a goalless draw in Tunisia. Many Batswana considered the draw as sheer luck and predicted that the Tunisians were going to easily sail through, like their seniors once did. It was not to be as the young Zebras put up a brave fight against the towering Tunisians. The second half goal by Moemedi ‘Jomo’ Moatlhaping was enough to send Botswana to the group stages. The victory was historic in the sense that it was Botswana’s first qualifications to the group stages. It was also for the first time that Botswana defeated a North African country. The victory would also pave the way for Botswana to play against Africa’s powerful countries. The victory against Tunisia did not go unnoticed by neighbouring South Africa who, in turn, invited the team for the eight nations tournament in Eldorado Park, just outside Johannesburg. Just before the games started, South Africa experienced winter snow with freezing temperatures. The last time South Africa had such conditions was way back in 1981.

Then many people thought Botswana were easily going to be outclassed by China, Cameroon and South Africa who are used to such conditions and have very experienced players. That was not the case as Botswana started by sending shockwaves by defeating Cameroon with a solitary goal. Kaone Molefhe scored a beautiful goal outside the box. China was next and predictions were that they were going to have an easy ride because they were the defending champions. Even the multitudes of Chinese fans that thronged the stadium in their numbers did little to stop Bright’s team from tearing their team into smithereens.

Botswana put four goals past the stubborn Chinese. Upon realising that the Chinese were too tactical and quick on the ball, Botswana then went for long range shots. It paid off because Kekaetswe ‘Mara’ Moloi, together with Tebogo Sembowa, scored the first two goals with powerful shots. Despite the strong comeback of the Chinese in the second half, Botswana managed to score another two goals. What shocked the contingent of the Chinese media that accompanied the team was the fact that Bright was facing a team that was preparing for the Olympics and coached by one of the World’s best and sort after coach. Serbian Ratomir Dujakovic is renowned for having taken Ghana to their first ever World Cup last year in Germany and even helped them go as far as the last 16, a great achievement for an African team. Dujakovic is also renowned for helping Rwanda to qualify for their first ever AFCON in 2002. Even Dujakovic was surprised with the raw talent Botswana has. On the other hand, the Chinese team was just returning from Europe’s top tournament, Toulose, where they did well. Dujakovic sang praises of Kaone Molefhe, Gobonyeone ‘Shoes’ Selefa, Tebogo Sembowa and even goalkeeper, Noah Maposa. Botswana went all the way to the finals which they lost by a solitary goal to Cameroon. As if that was not enough, Botswana was invited for a Four Nations’ tournament in China because the Chinese could not believe their loss to Botswana and wanted revenge. The Chinese did revenge in China because Botswana played the same day they arrived. Despite losing 2-0 to China in the first game, Bright managed to steer the boys to famous victories against Japan and South Korea which Botswana won 1-0 in each game. The victories that also shocked Asia meant that Botswana were the overall champions.

Then came the all important Olympic Games. Botswana might have tumbled before the last game but Bright proved to Batswana that any team can be beaten. He once again steered Botswana to 2-1 and 2-0 victories against Guinea and Morocco. Botswana had never beaten the two countries before. Against Morocco, it was all important because both teams, together with Cameroon, had a chance of making it to the Beijing Olympics next year, provided Cameroon drew or lost to Guinea. Unfortunately, Cameroon won the game to book next year’s ticket. After the Morocco game, Bright opened up another new chapter in the history of Botswana soccer. He has since been hired by South African side, Cape Town Santos, as technical head and coach. He is the first local coach to get a lucrative job in the professional ranks. Should he cement his place like he did in Botswana, he might end up coaching even bigger teams out there or even national ones.


Read this week's paper