For the Zebras, today (Sunday)?s game against Burundi is a must win or else the dream to qualify for the biennial 2008 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will be shattered. Botswana is the only country in the group that is yet to register a victory.
All the other three countries, Egypt, Mauritania and even Burundi itself have registered victories. What is even compounding the situation for Botswana is that only one country that finishes top from each group qualifies for Ghana, where the 2008 edition of the tournament will be held.
The 4-0 loss to Mauritania last year seems to also have dealt Botswana?s chances of qualifying a severe blow because even if Botswana do well in the upcoming games and finish in position two, they would have to compete with other countries for the best second runners up position. A country that finishes as the best second runner up also qualifies.
Burundi, on the other hand, has not been impressive in their past games and even dropped drastically in FIFA rankings. They are currently ranked 117 in the World while Botswana is on position 105. Rankings are, however, just numbers when it comes to performance because most top ranked teams are always defeated by minnows. The typical example is Mauritania that was ranked far below Botswana before beating Botswana 4-0.
Burundi is also a country that needs not to be taken lightly because most of their players are based overseas and might cause havoc for Botswana. Botswana, on the other hand, is boasted by the return of two prodigal sons, top striker, Diphetogo Selolwane, and crafty midfielder, Mogogi Gabonamong.
Both players turned their backs on Botswana in the past games, demanding allowance increments. Their absence opened a gaping hole that proved to be difficult to fill. The experience of the duo was solely missed because available strikers failed to convert many easy chances that experienced players could have easily converted.
Although the Zebras? midfield was manned by the youthful Dirang Moloi in Gabonamong?s absence, Gabonamong?s experience was missed.
Gabonamong is the kind of midfielder who normally surges forward and defends well when the going is tough. He can even go to the extent of scoring no matter how tough the opponents are. The game that comes to mind was against Tunisia in last year?s double qualification for the World Cup and AFCON at the National Stadium. Even though the Zebras ended up losing the game 3-1, Gabonamong scored a beautiful goal that left Tunisian players exasperated.
Gabonamong has also been in scintillating form of late at his team, Cape Town Santos. He has created many goals and even scored some.
Selolwane, on the other hand, has found the going tough at Santos, and he has to resuscitate himself and prove that he has something to offer the national team. During the 2006 campaigns he was one of the leading goal scorers, something that was never seen before with local strikers.
The Zebras are also boosted by the arrival of Cyprus-based Joel Mogorosi. Mogorosi is a more effective player, especially on the wings with his perky dribbles and flashing speed. Bearing in mind that Burundi is a more physical side, a player of Mogorosi?s type is highly needed. The Zebras need not have an excuse for a loss because they just returned from Belgium where they spent two weeks of intensive training. Also, just early this week, the Zebras played two friendly games against South African top sides, Supersport United and Moroka Swallows. The Zebras drew against Supersport and went down to Swallows. The Zebras are also under intense pressure because they are on the verge of being overshadowed by their Under 23 youngsters who are doing a tremendous job. The Under 23s are just one step away from qualifying for the All Africa Games. They are scheduled to play against South Africa and a win in the two legged encounter would automatically give them a passage to the games. The Under 23s also defeated one of Africa?s top sides, Tunisia, in Olympic qualifying games and have now qualified for the group stages. The Zebras have to fight hard and make sure that they stand a better chance of qualifying.
They will, however, bank on their ever tight and intact defense led by the trio of Mompati Thuma, Ernest Amos and Ndiapo Letsholathebe. As usual, Modiri Marumo might be the last man in defense because he has proved to be the country?s top goalkeeper, especially in tense matches.