When the Sudanese referee blew the final whistle to mark the end of the game between Botswana and Chad in the 2012 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier in N’djamena on Saturday night, the celebrations which erupted across the country were deafening.
The Zebras’ 1-0 win over Chad in Group K booked them their first appearance at the continental championship since it started in 1957.
The 2012 event will be hosted by West African countries, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
In the streets of Gaborone, there were sounds of hooters, with some people blowing their vuvuzelas. It was a memorable day which will go down in the history books.
After the weekend’s results, some football supporters have declared that they would start budgeting for their trip to the continental games, which will be played in January. The Zebras remain at the summit of the group with 16 points, unbeaten in six games and this means that the remaining two games against Malawi and Togo will just be formalities.
When the qualifiers started, the Zebras were not given a chance of getting out of the group considering that they were pitted against continental powerhouse Tunisia, Togo, Malawi and Chad.
The technical team, led by coach Stanley Tshosane, has drawn deserved credit for the sterling job. Tshoshane had been criticized from all corners when he was appointed the head coach.
In an interview with The Telegraph on Monday, former Zebras’ captain Itumeleng Duiker congratulated the team and pointed out that the achievement has been a long time coming. ┬á
“We’ve been trying for years and came close. This time around I feel we deserved it considering the efforts we put in. The good thing is that the coach maintained most of the players who have been through this road (of qualifying) before,” he said.
Duiker added that Botswana Football Association (BFA) has to come up with a plan, which will prepare the team for the competition. He said that it is important to continue utilising the FIFA dates for international friendly games. He advised that the technical team should consider Under-23 players in the upcoming games to gain the necessary experience.
Mmoloki ‘BB’ Sechele who played for the Zebras in the 90s said, “These boys (players) have done something special for the country and I believe that their feat will make other nations take notice. The players are our heroes and they deserve to be accorded the respect they deserve. Going forward, we need to introduce some youngsters into the team, which will prepare them for the tournament.” ┬á
Sechele shared the same sentiments with Duiker that more friendly games would help to keep the Zebras in shape.
One of the former players who was against the appointment of Tshosane to lead the Zebras to AFCON was Khumo ‘Shoes’ Motlhabane and he has admitted that the coach has made him eat humble pie.
“There is no doubt that I was against his appointment because I felt that we would not progress under his tutelage. It was nothing personal and the good thing is that it seems the criticism made the coach work hard. He had a point to prove and today we’re celebrating a huge achievement. Even some of the players who heard me saying Tshosane would not take us anywhere, told me that they were going to surprise me by qualifying for AFCON and they did that,” he said.
Motlhabane praised the coach for sticking to experienced players┬á saying that the faith in them has produce the results.
“As much as I’m delighted, there is no doubt that we were lucky to qualify. Tunisia and Togo were in a rebuilding process during the qualifiers as they used mostly Under-23 players when we beat them. Considering the experienced players we had, we were always going to have an edge over them,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, the Zebras take on Morocco in an international friendly game in Casablanca today (Wednesday).┬á BFA communications officer, Phakamile Kraai, said that the Zebras are expected to jet down at Sir Seretse Khama Airport on Friday midday.
The team is expected to get a heroes’ welcome.