If the history of the Africa Cup of Nations is anything to go by, then Botswana is really going to have a tough time at next year’s AFCON.
Since the inception of the tournament in 1957, teams that normally qualify for the first time never progress beyond the group stages.
In the second qualifications, it is also not easy as teams still tumble from the word go. The only exceptional case is of neighbouring South Africa in 1996. South Africa defied the odds and became the first country from Southern Africa to win the tournament.
South Africa hosted that tournament that was initially supposed to be held in Kenya. South Africa, however, hosted it after the Confederation of African Football deemed Kenya ill-prepared for the tournament.
Apart from many debutants failing to progress beyond the group stages, Southern African countries that qualify also never had it easy at the tournament.
Apart from South Africa, no country that qualified for the first time went beyond the group stages. This means Botswana is in for a tough time and they might need divine intervention to help them progress further.
Some soccer gurus do not think Botswana will make it beyond the group stages.
One of them is the former Technical Advisor of the Botswana Football Association, Ben Koufie. He was quoted in Ghanaian media as saying that Botswana is still far from making it to the knockout stages.
Competition in AFCON started getting tense in 1992 when teams increased to 12 from the usual eight.
In 1994, both Sierra Leone and Gabon participated for the first time but bowed out in the first round.
In 1996, Angola, Liberia and Burkina Faso also made their maiden appearances at the tournament but performed dismally as they never made it beyond the group stages. In one of their matches, Burkina Faso was even humiliated by Zambia by five goals without reply.
In 1998, another Southern African team, Namibia made their first appearance but just like the others before it, they could not taste the next round after the group stages. In one of their matches they were thrashed by South Africa by four goals to one.
In 2000 and 2002, there were no new comers but in 2004, Rwanda and Zimbabwe became two new teams to qualify but like other new comers, they ended in the group stages.
In 2006, 2008 and 2010 countries that made it were the same old faces.
At next year’s AFCON, new comers will be Botswana and the West African nation of Niger. All eyes will be on the two sides to see whether they can break the long standing jinx and make it to the knockout stages.
Even though they are not in the same group, both teams once played against each other for the qualifications of the 1994 AFCON. Niger beat Botswana by a solitary goal in Niamey, but played to a goalless draw in Gaborone.