Monday, March 8, 2021

It’s a do or die for the Zebras

The Zebras will have a mammoth task this afternoon as they take on visiting Burundi in the second leg of the 2015 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier at the Lobatse Sports Complex. Both teams played to a goalless draw in the first leg match which was played in Bujumbura a fortnight ago.

It is do or die for the Zebras as they host the unpredictable East Africans, primarily because elimination for either country would condemn the loser to two years without playing a competitive match. At this stage, the home side is fully aware that they cannot afford to be on the losing end when the whistle blows at the elapse of 90 minutes. On paper, this should be an easy match for the Zebras, who sit 16 places ahead of the visitors on the CAF rankings. Botswana is ranked number 22 while Burundi sits on the 38th spot in the latest rankings.

The Zebras last hosted Burundi on March 25th, 2007 at the national stadium in Gaborone during the 2008 AFCON qualifiers. The home side won the game 1-0 courtesy of a Thato Siska header in the 65th minute after a Diphetogo Selolwane cross. At that time the Zebras, who were under the mentorship of Briton Colwyn Rowe, squandered a lot of opportunities. Despite the win over the Swallows, the Zebras failed to come out of Group B and claim a place at the Ghana showpiece.

Almost seven years later, the Zebras face another mammoth task of passing through Burundi in order to qualify for next year’s continental showpiece in Morocco. Interestingly, the captains for both sides were part of the teams that clashed years back in that national stadium encounter. Botswana’s Joel Mogorosi gave the visitors a torrid time with his speed on the right wing while Burundi’s Valery Nahayo marshalled the defence.

Zebras’ midfielder, Ofentse Nato, believes they are well prepared to take the Burundians head on. He pointed out that when they were in Bujumbura they defended too deep, which gave their opponents a chance to have a go at them.

“We were away and we had to be cautious. When we pressed them we could see that they are beatable, but we did not take advantage. Since we’re playing home, I have no doubt that we’ll attack them and come out on top in the end. This is an important game for us,” said the Mpumalanga Black Aces hard man.

While he admits that the Zebras have in the past stumbled at crucial moments, Nato remains confident that this time around they will prevail.

“Since we’ll be playing at home there are lots of expectations. There are lots of youngsters in the team and I just hope they will come to the party. The youngsters have shown a lot of character and I believe they have what it takes to do the job for the country. We’re a united force. I just hope things go well for us on Sunday,” he said.

Nato is expected to lead the Zebras in the midfield alongside Jwaneng Comets’ youngster Lebogang Ditsele. In the absence of Oscar Ncenga, who was red carded in Bujumbura, Zebras’ head coach Peter Butler has roped in experienced BDF XI defender Boitumelo Mafoko. Batswana will be pinning their hopes on the attacking exploits of Mogorosi, Mogakolodi Ngele and Lemponye Tshireletso. Kickoff is at 3.30pm and the game will be broadcasted live on Btv and RB 1.

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