Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Now the samba boys

For Botswana to play a country from outside the African continent is a tremendous achievement. But engaging a country from South America is even more awesome.

For many years Botswana used to play mainly fellow neighbours in the southern African region. Then on the menu came West, East and North African teams and the results were always pathetic for Botswana. The situation has since improved and, nowadays, Botswana plays to compete but not to participate.
Botswana has now spread its wings wide and they are scheduled to meet five time world champions Brazil on April 1st to mark the swearing in of Botswana’s fourth President, Ian Khama. It is the second time Botswana will be playing a country from outside the African continent. In 2002 Botswana played against Trinidad and Tobago, managing to hold the Caribbean Islanders to a goalless draw. Although Botswana would be facing a select team from the capital city of Brasilia, the developments are good news for Botswana.

It is known that Brazil is a soccer mad country and almost every player is as good as professionals in other parts of the world. Also since there are many players, not all of them can make it outside their country. The benefits Botswana can derive from the friendly encounter might even go beyond the game itself. Local players might even find their way to the country because the Brazilian league is professional. After Botswana played Trinidad and Tobago, two local players, Mogogi Gabonamong and Kagiso Tshelametsi, earned themselves lucrative contracts in the country.

Brazil is the world’s biggest exporter of professional football players. There are more than 3000 Brazilian professional players plying their trade outside the country, and their league is one of the most competitive around the world. What makes the Brazilian league interesting is the fact that most players who retire from overseas head to Brazil. Football in Brazil is also like a religion and what ever happens regarding the national team is big news in the country.

There are reports that some television networks in Brazil want to broadcast the game live. This would, in turn, market Botswana football to the rest of the world. In 2005 when the Zebras went for training camp in Brazil, one could see that the senior team learned a thing or two against the local sides they played against. The camp was part of preparations for the 2006 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifications.
The immediate game for Botswana after the Brazilian retreat was against the then defending champions, Tunisia, at the National Stadium in Gaborone. Although Botswana lost the game 3-1, they produced one of their best performances.

Brazilian national teams rarely play on the African continent. This obviously means Botswana is most fortunate. The last time a full fledged Brazilian team played in Southern Africa was against South Africa in a friendly encounter in 1996. Brazil used the game as part of the 1996 USA Olympics preparations and won 3-2.

Officials from the Botswana Football Association (BFA) are ecstatic about playing Brazil. BFA President, Philip Makgalemele said the friendly between the two countries is part of the signing of the memorandum of understanding of 2005 when Botswana toured Brazil. He expressed optimism that such relations between the two countries would exist for many years to come. He added that the friendly might even be a step for Brazil to set up a training camp in Botswana before the 2010 World Cup in neighbouring South Africa.

Meanwhile, Brazilian ambassador for Southern African region, Joao Inacio Padilha, said Brazil uses football as a foreign policy and was happy for the two countries to cement relationships.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.