Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Is another major achievement in soccer coming?

For the past few years, Botswana has been achieving historical results in soccer and supporters have always had something to cheer about. Prior to that, defeats were the order of the day and many countries knew that when playing against Botswana, whether home or away, they were guaranteed maximum points. Since 2003, that has never been the case and countries coming to Botswana know that they face tough resistance.

It all started way back in 2003 in the regional Council for Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) tournament when Botswana, for the first time, qualified for the quarterfinals. Botswana was away to Windhoek and the then strong Namibian side found it hard to get past Modiri Marumo, who stood firm between the goalposts. The following year, Botswana missed the semifinals by a whisker after going down on penalties to Angola in Luanda.

Two years down the line, Botswana caused another major shock. Once again, the team qualified for the semifinals for the first time. What was even historic was that the victory was against a country Botswana never defeated before, South Africa. Since Botswana won on penalties, some critics went to the extent of saying the victory was a fluke, little did they know that more was to come.

Currently, the African continent, and even the world at large, is watching in disbelief as the national Under 23 teams breaks the hearts of greater soccer nations. Who on earth would ever think that a country like Botswana could beat highly rated countries like Angola and Tunisia? These are the countries whose senior teams just returned from the World Cup seven months ago. When the young Zebras beat Angola by two goals without reply three weeks ago in Gaborone, the Angolans reinforced their team with several overseas based players in an away leg and resorted to dirty tricks, but all in vain as Botswana soldiered on and won on penalties. The Angolan team Botswana defeated is the one that is preparing for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations that Angola will be hosting.

Surprises started last month when it was announced that the Young Zebras managed to hold Tunisia to a goalless draw away and the goalkeeper, Noah Maposa, saved a penalty. The draw signaled that a major victory was in the offing. In Gaborone, the Tunisians came with one thing in their minds, to score a goal and unsettle the young Zebras.

Almost half of their squad was made up of towering and bulging players who easily won aerial battles. But a 1-0 clean victory from players mainly playing amateur football was enough. The Tunisians were even frustrated to the extent that they fought amongst themselves while Botswana was playing good carpet football.

Victories against Tunisia and Angola are historic on their own because Botswana has also never been as close to qualifying for the All Africa Games as they are now. Also, no Botswana team has been to the group stages of the Olympic Games. Since the team has achieved what was never achieved before, the question many Batswana are asking is whether another historic achievement is on the way.

The technical officer of the Botswana Football Association, Losika Keatlholetswe, did not want to commit himself. He told The Sunday Standard that what the boys have done is already a major achievement and any progress beyond that would be a bonus.

?Our football is growing tremendously. Beating big guns like Tunisia and Angola is something many people did not expect. But this is the results of hard work from the BFA and other stakeholders and let?s hope this is the beginning of more good things to come,? he said.

Keatlholetswe said before the games, the players did not only train hard and promised bonuses but they were also taken through thorough secessions like counseling, something he believes played a vital role.

Keatlholetswe said victory came after painful runs because Botswana was once a punching bag of many African countries and now it is time for Botswana to feel the euphoria of winning.

?One needs to be beaten if he is to win. So Botswana used to be the laughing stock and in that time we learned a lot which I think has been rectified and that is why we even beat countries such as Tunisia and Angola,? he said.

When playing against both Angola and Tunisia, Botswana teams had problems because some of the players were suspended while others were on the injuries list but it has since been proved that the team has depth. Even in the Thursday night game against Tunisia, Botswana suffered a major blow when reliable and experienced goalkeeper, Noah Maposa, suffered shoulder injury after being trampled upon by a Tunisian player. Reports suggest that his shoulder has been dislocated and it might take some time before it completely heals.

Although almost all players contributed, a player who can be singled out is the captain of the team, Mmusa Ohilwe. The BMC defender has been consistent in the past games and has composure. Against Tunisia, he fought hard against tall Tunisian strikers and won most of the balls. If his performance is anything to go by, he might not be at BMC for long.

Botswana will now play against South Africa for in an All Africa Games encounter next weekend and the winner qualifies for Algeria. The game will be played at Olympia Park Stadium in Rustenburg about two hundred kilometers away from Gaborone. Botswana might also find itself pitted against South Africa in the same group for the Olympic Games provided they (South Africa) overcome Uganda, which they play today (Sunday). South Africa won the first leg 2-0.

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.