Botswana’s national under-17 team is already revered by many soccer pundits for being the best thing to come out of the country. The team qualified for the Africa Youth Championships to be held in Morocco early next year.
Although two previous under 17s in 1995 and 97 qualified for the same tournament, what gives the current one and edge is the fact that they played more matches en-route to the championships.
The draw for next year’s championships that will start on April 13-27 has already been conducted, and Botswana finds itself in the middle of some of some giants of African football.
Three teams that complete the Botswana group are North Africans, Morocco, Tunisia and even Gabon.
Undoubtedly it would not be a walk in the park for the young Zebras because North Africans are generally strong in youth development and the fact of Morocco being the hosts might complicate the matter further for the Diamond Zebras. Gabon have also over the years been regularly appearing in several African youth tournaments and Botswana would have to re-double their efforts.
However Botswana youth teams performances have improved drastically against North African teams and maybe the Diamond Zebras can bank on that.
Their last match that guaranteed them qualification was against Algeria and Botswana ended up winning on penalties after an aggregate score of two all draw. The former under 23 that was also known as the Dream Team once beat the likes of Tunisia and Morocco during the Olympics qualifications for 2008.
The coach of that Under 23, Major David Bright told The Telegraph that Diamond Zebras are capable of beating the North Africans because they have already beaten one.
“They managed to beat Algeria and if they thoroughly prepare they can beat other North African teams. During my time when we played Tunisia and Morocco we did not really know them and had to rely on defensive play coupled with counter attacks and that worked wonders for us,” he said.
Bright said the strength of North African teams is the wing play and use speed to whip crosses to the box. He said once you let them make crosses they will bury you dead because they are also strong in the air.
Bright also cautioned the young Zebras to avoid committing fouls near the box because the North Africans are deadly on set pieces. He however stressed that the tournament is a different ball game compared to the qualifications.
He said the tournament needs a lot of endurance because they have to play many matches within a short period of time.
“The tournament is all about endurance and that is one element that worked against the Zebras at the Africa Cup of Nations this year. They did well in the qualifications but the tournament proved difficult for them. I would like to see a situation whereby they play an eight or four nations tournament before they leave for Morocco so that they get used to the situation,” he said.
The other group is made up of some African giants mainly from Western Africa and they are Ivory Coast, Nigera, Ghana and Congo Brazzaville.