The popularity of the senior national team, Zebras, gained momentum around 2003. That was the time when the Gaborone Supporters branch was formed and after that branches spread all over the country. From that time, when the Zebras were under the tutelage of Jellusic Vesselin, up to now when they are under Colywn Rowe, it can be noted that several players have made the national team their daily bread. It looks like only a miracle can sideline them. Although some sections of the soccer fraternity have been calling for the exclusion of certain players to pave way for the youngsters, that has fallen on deaf ears. Such players have become familiar faces and every time the Zebras play, there is no doubt they will feature.
Those players are goalkeeper, Modiri Marumo, Mompati Thuma, Michael Mohaladi, Nelson ‘Viola’ Gabolwelwe, Diphetogo Selolwane, Mogogi Gabonamong, Ernest Amos, Khumo Motlhabane and Tshepho Motlhabankwe.
Marumo seems to be living to the football slogan that ‘goalkeepers mature with age’. He is currently one of the most sort after goalkeepers in Africa or else he would not be plying his trade at the top flight of Egyptian soccer. He is also the long time serving Zebras player, together with Selolwane and Gabonamong.
Marumo, together with the duo, has been at the helm of the national team for almost ten years and might even play for a few more. There was a time when many people were calling for him to be either excluded or relegated to the bench because they felt he let in many easy goals. But Vesselin stuck to his guns and kept his faith in Marumo. And to date Marumo has not disappointed even the incumbent coach because he rescued the Zebras on many occasions. There was once a time when Marumo’s long time understudy, Kagiso Tshelametsi, was given a chance but disappointed.
After joining Mogoditshane Fighters from Palapye side, Motlakase, he made an immediate impact, but it took him some time to break into Vesselin’s first eleven. That did not dampen his spirit and when his chance finally came, he did not look back.
Currently, football supporters in this country cannot imagine the Zebras without Thuma. What is surprising the people the most about him is that he is thin and rarely gets injured despite the ferocious and bone crushing tackles he always makes.
Mohaladi has for a long time been the most underrated player in the elite league but has always broken the ranks. No body ever thought he would make it to the national team, but Vesselin saw something in him that is lacking in other players. Even during difficult times, Vesselin kept his faith in the player. As if that was not enough, Mohaladi broke the ranks into the South African Premier League two seasons ago at Maritziburg United. Even when the team got relegated to the First Division last season, Mohaladi went with it. The Zebras without Mohaladi is unbelievable.
Before Rowe took over, many people had been calling for Gabolwelwe’s exclusion from the national team saying he had passed his sell by date. Veselin would not listen and even today, Rowe has turned a deaf ear. The answer that coaches normally give is that there is no body who can replace him and, in addition, he is seen as someone who is giving the Zebras shape.
The Tsetsebjwe-born winger also did not let the harsh criticism, especially from the media, detract him. Against Zimbabwe on Wednesday, he was one of the Botswana players who played all their hearts out.
Selolwane and Gabonamong are some of the few players who played for all the junior ranks from Under 17. They are also some of the few players based outside the country in neighbouring South Africa playing for Cape Town sides, Ajax and Santos. Although they were once in self imposed exile they came back shortly and continued to do a splendid job.
Selolwane is also one of the all time leading goal scorers for the national team and his goal scoring instinct is always vital to the Zebras.
Although Gabonamong is a man marker, he can double up as a destroyer. He also likes to surge forward looking for goals and it has worked for him in some of the games.
Amos has proved to be a true man marker for the Zebras. He has denied many dangerous strikers scoring opportunities. The memorable one is Mido of Egypt, who is playing in the English Premier League. It was in 2006 for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier when Amos reduced him to an ordinary player. In a friendly game against Zimbabwe on Wednesday, Amos also tamed another danger man, Benjani Mwaruwaru from the English Premier League side, Manchester City. Motlhabane and Motlhabankwe are some of the familiar figures of the national team.