Tuesday, September 22, 2020

How realistic are the Zebras’ chances to qualify?

Most Batswana are ecstatic about Botswana’s recent 2-1 victory over Mauritania for the biennial Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) that will be held in Ghana next year. The victory, however, seems to have come a little bit late because the country’s chances of making their maiden appearance hangs by a hair’s breadth. Looking at the standings of the other eleven groups, only a miracle can help Botswana qualify. Group winners automatically qualify for Ghana and the three best runners up and the host would complete the list of 16 teams.

So far, Botswana have a paltry seven points from four games and are in second position. Botswana’s chances of finishing as the group winners are unrealistic because they still have to play Egypt, the reigning African champions, away. Egypt have eight points with a game in hand. In addition, Botswana’s hopes of finishing as one of the best three runners up are also unrealistic because other teams have accumulated more points than Botswana.

What further exacerbates the situation is the fact that Sudan, which is in group four, have already claimed the other position as one of the best runners up because Tunisia has already claimed the championship of the group.

As things stand, there are only two places up for grabs. Botswana is now competing against eight groups for the two best runners-up positions. In all the eight groups, only Botswana in Group 2, Equatorial Guinea (Group 5) and Libya in Group 7 have seven points while others have more. Botswana actually blew their chances when they lost to Burundi in Kigali about a month ago. That was a pivotal game for Botswana after a surprise goalless draw against Egypt.

In that game against Egypt, our local players showed character and did not show any respect for the much fancied Egyptians. Botswana then defeated Burundi by a solitary goal in the third game but many Batswana were not convinced by the victory saying lady luck just smiled for Botswana on the day. Against Mauritania last month, the team played well in the first half but resorted to defending tactics in the second half. Had they continued attacking, an avalanche of goals could have buried Mauritania.

A local coach, who preferred anonymity, told The Sunday Standard that Botswana’s humiliating 4-0 loss to Mauritania in the first game dented Botswana’s chances. The coach said looking at the group stages, the little hope that some Batswana have is misplaced. He said even some of Africa’s powerhouses like South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and Togo face the dilemma of not making it. The coach called for Coach Rowe to take qualification for the games off his mind but rather develop players who are likely to be future prospects. The coach said Rowe must try many new faces and rest others who are aging.

“In the first place, Botswana players had never been exposed to play against powerful African countries for qualification until in 2003 for qualifications for last year’s AFCON.

This means we are still getting used to these countries and absorbing the pressure. Then, in at least four years time, we can talk about something. Rowe is trying his best like his predecessor, Jelusic Vesselin, but the reality is that we are out of contention for next years AFCON. What we should do instead is to blend most of our Under 23 players into the team because right now we are out of contention,” the coach said.
The coach said many Batswana should also not expect miracles from the Under 23s who have just made a name for themselves. He said just like the senior team, they are still absorbing the pressure they have never been exposed to before. The coach said the reality for the team is that it cannot qualify for the Olympics because they have perennial campaigners like Cameroon in the same group. Cameroon even won the event in 2000. He said Botswana should treat each game as a learning curve but not as a qualification route. He said Cameroon have already made their intentions clear for the Olympics when they beat Guinea 6-0 the same time when Botswana lost by a single goal to Morocco in the first game for Olympic qualifications.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.