Most players, who play for the senior national team, have come through the ranks of the junior national teams. While in youth teams, players learn invaluable skills so that they would not struggle once they graduate to the senior team. However, other players just burst into the senior national team from nowhere, Tshepho Bogosing reports.
It is rare to find players who just came from nowhere and break into the national team and perform beyond expectations. However, there are few players in the senior national team who had not touched a ball in the junior national teams but who are performing miracles in the senior national team. Such players are excellent in the sense that their absence would mean a severe blow to the team.
Just to mention a few, players like Ernest Amos, Tshepo ‘Talk talk’ Motlhabankwe and Boitumelo Mafoko have never played for youth national teams but are the vital cogs of the national squad. Amos is a natural man marker and one of the best defenders this country has ever produced. He has proved himself to be a non-respecter when playing against so-called top African teams. This is so because he never gives a chance to renowned international strikers to show case their skills let alone score. The memorable game for Amos that still lingers in the minds of many soccer followers was against Egypt last October during the qualifications for the Africa Cup of Nations. Amos out marked dangerous Egyptian striker, Ahmed Hossam Mido, who plies his trade with English Premier League side, Tottenham Hotspurs. Amos’s man-marking skills paid off for Botswana because the game ended in a goalless draw. The results are also regarded by many Batswana as the best ever since independence.
Amos can also be remembered for man marking dangerous Angolan striker, Love, during a 2004 COSAFA Castle game in Luanda. Love tried all his tricks but Amos did not give him space to maneuver. Angola ended up winning on penalty shout outs. Other renowned international strikers Amos kept at bay include Moroccan Youssef Hadji.
Motlhabankwe, on the other hand, is the engine of the Zebras. He has unique talent in the midfield while at same time surging forward for goals. He can also take on the goalkeeper from any angle and distance because he has a powerful short that most goalkeepers find difficult to handle. When talking about him, two games come to mind. The 2004 COSAFA Castle game against Angola and the 2006 one against South Africa. In Angola, he scored from a free kick with a powerful shot. The goal ensured that Zebras were back on level terms after Angola had taken a lead via their dangerous striker, Flavio.
Last year, during another COSAFA game against South Africa, Motlhabankwe came on as a substitute and ignited the midfield. South Africa had taken control of the game and his introduction meant that the teams went for penalties which Botswana won. Even the then South African acting coach, Pitso Mosimane, applauded Motlhabankwe’s performance saying he is a good player. Later on, there were rumours that Mosimane wanted Motlhabankwe at his team, Supersport United in Pretoria.
Mafoko is seen as the rising star of the Zebras. He only made his debut for the Zebras last year during the Independence celebrations against Cameroon and has never looked back. He is a destroyer who is never afraid to go for tackles, something many local players fear. Before being called up for the Zebras, Mafoko was playing for Francistown side, Tasc. He made it to the national team after relocating to Gaborone to play for Township Rollers.