Botswana faces an uphill battle against Mali in their quest to qualify for the group stages of the 2018 World Cup. The two nations will play against each other end of November in two legged encounters. If history between the two teams is anything to go by, Botswana should then seriously focus on the qualification for 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) and play against Mali just for formality.
The Les Aigles (The Eagles of Mali) have proven to be the Zebras’ thorn in the flesh for many years. From the five encounters both teams have played, Mali have won all of them convincingly. Mali managed to score an avalanche of 16 goals, while Botswana managed only three. This means if Botswana is to progress to the group stages, they would need divine intervention. During the qualifications for 1996 Afcon, Mali beat Botswana 3-1 in Botswana and went on to add four more goals in a return leg in Bamako. Also during 2012 Afcon tournament co-hosted by both Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Mali came from behind to win 2-1. The hex by Mali over Zebras continued during the qualification for 2013 Afcon. Mali won 3-0 at home and rounded it off with another 4-1 victory in Botswana.
Although football is an unpredictable game, many believe that Botswana has a big task ahead of them. Almost all Malian players are based in European top leagues, mostly in France, and that should be a major cause for concern for the Zebras. The most influential player in the team is long standing captain, Seydou Keita who plays for AS Roma in Italy. Keita is the team’s most capped and all time leading goal scorer. He has scored 25 goals for the team and has played for his country on 102 occasions, more so, he has played a record seven Afcon tournaments. Mali has never qualified for the World Cup, but with the kind of talent at their disposal they would also want to see themselves making it to the World most glorious soccer showpiece.
Customarily, Botswana always struggles with West African teams which, somehow, always defeat the Zebras. Botswana has so far only managed to beat only two West African teams in official matches. The Zebras beat Burkina Faso 1-0 in the recent qualification for 2015 Afcon in Francistown. The other West African team that the Zebras beat is Togo in the 2012 Afcon. Other than that, West African teams normally give Zebras a run for their money.