Friday, September 24, 2021

Mares inspired even as road to glory eluded them

A week ago, Botswana women senior national team gallantly galloped to the finals of the COSAFA women championships.

Unfortunately, ‘the Mares,’ as the team is affectionately called, could not get the ultimate price, losing 1 – 2 to hosts South Africa.

Botswana women senior national team’s results however marked a complete transformation for a team that once used to be ‘the whipping girls of Southern Africa.’

From a team that lost 0 – 14 to South Africa in its debut at the COSAFA women cup in 2002 to finishing runners-up in 2020, the difference is like night and day.

In fact, the local ladies had waited fifteen years before they won their first game at the COSAFA women championships, coming via a 3 – 0 win over Lesotho in 2017.

Two years after that first win and using a team mostly made of players under the age of 20 years, the team managed to reach the semi-finals of the COSAFA women championships.

This year, ‘the whipping girls’ whipped regional giants like Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia on route to a long awaited COSAFA women championship finals appearance and silver medals.

Making this even bitter-sweet, the team has managed to grow all these years with but little or inadequate support from the successive Botswana Football Association (BFA) regimes.

Leading to the current success, the local ladies had not kicked any ball in more than seven months, this dating to when the coronavirus forced the BFA to stop the leagues in March early this year.

While they had a three weeks camp before heading to the Nelson Mandela Bay for the regional tournament, in that period, the team had not had any practice match.

Heading into the 2020 COSAFA women’s championships, there were even rumours that the technical team was not united, with some said not to be happy with the team manager selection.

Despite all these challenges, the team fought gallantly and it was more through graft than finesse that it ultimately made the finals.

Speaking in an interview, team head coach Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang said her charges had grown tremendously over the years.

“From those formative years in 2002 to now, our women team has now grown. We can now even score goals as compared to what was happening back in the day,” she explained.

While she still believes there is still a lot that needs to be done, Nkutlwisang said a lot has also changed in the women’s training.

“Where we used to only train and play in dusty grounds, we now play in better fields around Lekidi. Even our league games in Gaborone are played there, which is a positive,” she said.

Nkutlwisang said what helps the team is the fact that the local ladies are very committed and are working hard to catch the eye of international teams and scouts.

“With a little more support, I believe we can do even much better. The majority of our players in the current team are aged under 25 years, with only 6 aged over 29 years,” she said.

She said given the plethora of talent in the country, it is not out of the realm of reality to believe the current crop of players can bring the country long sought glory.

“Last year at the COSAFA women championships, we had a team made of a majority of players under 20 years and we made the semi-finals. These players cannot just be discarded,” Nkutlwisang said adding that for this to happen however, “there will be a need to give them as much exposure as possible. Luckily, the country has now made partnerships with countries like Morocco, Brazil and Serbia, just to mention a few. If these are utilised, I believe we can do very well,” she said.

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