Friday, April 16, 2021

How Major Bright transformed the young Zebras into a winning side

In Military parlance, a broken arrow means a missile that did not reach its intended destination.

Last month the Young Zebras’ hopes of reaching the 2008 Olympic Games were dealt a heavy blow when they lost by a solitary goal against Morocco.
Having unceremoniously bowed out of the All Africa Games, the Olympics are the only hope of respite to restore their dented pride.

At the helm of the team is a retired major who has all the scars of the football battles to show for his time in the sport.

With the Olympic qualifiers pitting us against the finest footballing giants, there is very little time to lick our wounds.

There is not even a little time for the retired Army Major to enjoy his retirement.

It may actually be years before he actually retires from football.

No one knows better than David Bright that the time to prepare the team is now. For a team that has just entered the uncharted territory of Olympic qualifiers, there is a lot of hard work ahead, not least exposing the boys to the hurly burly of international football.

A soldier that he is, Bright knows so well that “battles are won a day before”.

The Sasol Eight Nations Cup in South Africa, therefore, could have not come at a better time.
For the boys, they are riding on a crest of good fortune, coached by one the most illustrious coaches the country has ever produced.
Their shot at the Olympic qualifiers is certainly more than they ever bargained for.

And when they left for South Africa, they knew in a space of a week they would know how the next eighteen months that lead to the Olympics would pan out.

The tournament had great names: the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana.

These are names big enough to send shivers down the spines of any football team.

Throw in South Africa, the host of the 2010 World Cup, and China, the runner’s up in the Toulouse Under 21, and you know this tournament means business.

David Bright was, however, undeterred. He spoke excitedly about the tournament, and the willingness to pit his strength against the best the continent has to offer.

When the draw was finally made, it spelt doom for our team.

In the group with South Africa, Cameroon and China many believed our boys would be back in town faster than we could say “dream team”.
But the young Zebras, who had been in an upward trajectory since beating Angola, continued to upset the script by pipping Cameroon by a goal to nil in the opener.

If that was seen as a flash in the pan, in their second game they made a rather compelling statement of intent by thumping the pre-tournament favourites and defending champions China by four goals to nothing.

Speaking after the game the effervescent Bright appeared modest.

“The boys are finally playing the way I want them to.”
He appeared to be in awe; a man humbled by own achievement. But the party wasn’t over just yet; in fact, the dancing had only just begun.

The last game of the group stage was against their eternal nemesis, South Africa. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Nine players were called to play a charity cup competition a day before the South African encounter. So much for patriotism!
That effectively meant Bright had to field a depleted squad.
But the players duly obliged holding their own against the hosts.

Sembowe was unlucky to miss from a penalty kick.
The match was somewhat scrappy with limited repertoire, but the draw meant that the Young Zebras qualified for the semi finals at the top of the group.

In the semis, they met the enterprising Ghana. It was a classical David versus Goliath affair and, fittingly, David’s light shone brighter than the black starlets – the Young Zebras booked themselves a place in the final.

With a decorated curriculum vitae of winning the league twice, the Coca Cola knockout cup three times, Botswana Life Cup once and the World Group Cup twice, major David Bright knew being in the final of the Sasol Eight National Cup presented him with an opportunity to transform his success from club to national team glory.

But Bright didn’t have to lift the cup to prove he was a winner, taking the little fancied side that far was proof enough.

With limited resources, his was a daunting task: blending a squad that would be stronger than the total sum of its parts.

Margaret Thatcher spoke for most when she said, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

A second encounter with Cameroon finally edged us closer to winning the Sasol Eight nation Cup.
It was a case of the best team losing on the day.
And, as fate would have it, the scintillating display of Bright’s charges earned them an invitation to China to participate in the Shengyang Four Nations cup.

The allure that surrounded the African team was instantly discernible with the Zebras penciled in to play against the hosts in the opener. It was an encounter written “revenge” all over it.
The Chinese were eager to avenge the 4-0 drubbing they suffered at the hands of the young Zebras in the Sasol Cup.

Delays in flights and the weather that was particularly unpleasant for aviation meant that the Young Zebras had to spend the night sleeping rough on an airport tarmac in Beijing before heading for Shengyang a couple of hours before kickoff.

The Young Zebras succumbed to the Chinese in a game that, according to one Japanese newspaper, was contentiously refereed.

The hosts finally got their revenge; a two nil win.
The loss was a true test of character for Major David Bright who had to face the wounded DPR Korea in the next game.

A loss would effectively blow away the chance of the Young Zebras to win the cup.
Bright knew that all his tactics had to be executed with utmost military precision.

Kaone Molefe proved to be the knight in shining amour for the Young Zebras and the one nil win was enough to put the team back on track.
The last game of the tournament was against Japan – a power house in Asian football. The game was not a question of a simple win.

There was a bit of mathematical complication to the affair. Korea had to beat China who were sitting on four points and had a possibility of making seven in which case would virtually kill off the Young Zebras’ chances of winning the competition.
So Bright’s charges had to count on Korea to do part of the job for them.

With that taken care of, Amos Godirwang stood up to be counted by scoring the only goal of the game.
That sealed victory for the team. The Young Zebras’ penchant for snatching victory in the jaws of defeat once more prevailed.

The euphoria of Shengyang is fast dissipating and focus is now shifting to the Olympic qualifiers.
In a game that has absolutely no guarantees, the young Indomitable Lions can be assured one thing: with Bright at the helm, they might have won the battle in South Africa but the war is far from over…


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