If FIFA World Rankings were anything to go by, the game between Botswana’s Zebras and the Les Aigles (The Eagles) of Mali would have been a formality. Les Aigles, as the Mali national football team is affectionately called, would have rolled over the Zebras with ease. For starters, Botswana is ranked 105 in the world, more than forty places behind Mali who are perched 63 in the World. But as the old adage goes, ‘fortune favours the brave,’ and it was the brave Zebras who won this David versus Goliath encounter.
As the Malians beat a speedy retreat to the dressing rooms to nurse their wounds, local supporters were in no hurry to leave the stadium. They waited and cheered as their beloved Zebras took their lap of honour. While the Zebras are still to play against Mali in the second round and the odds are stacked against them making it into the group stages of the 2018 Russia World Cup, for the Zebras supporters, as with a majority of Botswana, this does not matter much. Against the Les Aigles, they had peeped into the future of Coach Peter Butler’s work in progress team taking shape and the future looked promising. Combining silky skills, intensity and steely determination, the Zebras thrilled their multitudes of supporters as they galloped to their maiden victory over their opponents.
In his many interviews, Butler had always insisted he wanted his team to play beautiful football with passion and here in the Francistown Sports Complex, this was all there to see. After some early pressure that saw Kabelo Dambe save from Ousmane Coulibaly just two minutes from the first whistle, the Zebras then settled as Mogakolodi Ngele tested Mali goal minder Sissoko Oumar with a stinging shot. From then on, it was Butler’s boys who took the game to their illustrious opponents, knocking the ball around beautifully, and keeping possession and when without the ball, pressing their opponents high up the pitch to disrupt them. Thirteen minutes into the game, the stadium became a cauldron of noise as Tapiwa Gadibolae, rose high to nod in Kabelo Seakanyeng’s cross past Oumar and give the Zebras a well deserved lead. The Zebras continued to pile in more pressure and this was repaid in the 23rd minute as Joel Mogorosi extended Botswana’s goals with a well taken shot.
Receiving Seakanyeng’s set piece with his back to goal, Mogorosi swiveled around and sneaked a shot past three Mali defenders and the despairing dive of Oumar. Two minutes thereafter, the Malian goalkeeper had to dive low to save another attempt, this time from Ngele. While Mali attempted a spirited comeback, they however could not breach the Zebras rearguard that put their bodies on the line to thwart any attempt at Dambe and ensure they went to recess with a two goal advantage. From recess, it was Mali who piled on the pressure and they were rewarded in the 58th minute courtesy of Samba Sow.
After the Zebras carelessly lost possession up the pitch and failed to track back to defend, the Malians went on a swift encounter, which saw Moussa Marega head back Bakary Sako’s cross into the path of Sow to tap past Dambe. Zebras then had what looked like a legitimate penalty claim ignored by the referee as Seakanyeng was hackled from behind when going one on one with substitute goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite. Despite Mali throwing everything and the kitchen zinc at them, the Zebras did not budge. In fact, it was the Zebras who nearly extended their lead with just two minutes of regulation time remaining, only for substitute Lemponye Tshireletso’s cross into the box to evade all including Seakanyeng as Butler’s boys held on to ensure their 100 percent winning streak at Francistown continues.
Zebras: Kabelo Dambe, Tebogo Sosome, Boitumelo Mafoko, Mosha Gaolaolwe, Ofentse Nato, Lebogang Ditsile, Tapiwa Gadibolae (Lemponye Tshireletso), Kabelo Seakanyeng, Mogakolodi Ngele, Hendrick Moyo, Joel Mogorosi (Omaatla Kebatho)
Mali: Sissoko Oumar (Soumaila Diakite), Adama Tamboura, Ousseynou Cisse, Modibo Maiga, Molla Wague, Bakary Sako, Mamoudou Ndiaye, Samba Sow (Birama Toure), Moussa Marega (Cheik Diabate), Ousmane Coulibaly