Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The power and the glory

How competitive is Botswana’s Premier League? How many of Botswana players are playing overseas?” These were some of the questions on the lips of South African journalists and spectators who watched Botswana’s Under 23 demolish China on Friday.

The Botswana lads were on fire and stamped their name on the world map by bludgeoning one of the strongest countries in the world, China, 4-0 at the ongoing Eight Nations Tournament in South Africa.

It took 90 minutes, countless magic touches and four goals to transform the berated minnows from Botswana into instant heroes of Eldorado Park in Johannesburg. And many who watched from the stands hand to constantly rub their eyes and pinch themselves.

The victory against China is Botswana’s biggest achievement since independence in 1966. Until this week, victories over Tunisia during the qualifications of the group stages of the Olympics were believed to be the Wow! Moment of Botswana’s football, the victory against China is the big one.

For starters, the Chinese team is preparing for the World’s second major games after the soccer World Cup, the Olympics. China is also coached by one of the world’s most respected coaches, Ratomir Dujakovic from Serbia. This is the celebrated king Midas who took Ghana to their first ever World Cup last year in Germany. Ghana progressed beyond the group stages something that has in the past proven to be difficult for African teams. Dujakovic also took Rwanda to their first ever qualifications for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004.

And add this to the bargain: Before the Eight Nations Tournament China participated in one of the most prestigious and competitive tournaments in the World, Toulouse under 21, in France recently. China bowed out in the finals against France. Before reaching the finals, China registered major victories against other African giants like Cameroon and Ivory Coast. After beating Cameroon in their opening game, some football pundits dismissed Botswana’s victory as a fluke, but after the Chinese drubbing they were forced to eat humble pie.

Botswana meets South Africa today (Sunday) as firm favorites: they have already qualified for the semifinals and have nothing to lose. South Africa on the other hand are under immense pressure and might even not make it for the semifinals after playing to a goalless draw against China and losing 3-2 to Cameroon.

Against China, Botswana did not accord them any respect. The much feared players like Tao Chen, Lin Gao were put on a tight leash by the Botswana defense. As has been the case with most of their past games, Botswana defense played well and it is not surprising they are yet to concede a goal.

Goalkeeper, Noah Maposa, made some daring saves while right back, Gabriel Bokhutlo also had a good game. Moreetsi Mosimanyana, who is renowned for his robust tackles, kept his game clean and he too had a very good game. He went pound for pound with physically tough and towering Chinese players. Credit must also go to the captain, Mmusa Ohilwe, who also kept many Chinese dangerous moves at bay. Ohilwe made some good build ups from the back and combined well with Gobonyeone ‘Shoes’ Selefa who marshaled the midfield. Upon sensing that Botswana was not a pushover, the Chinese resorted to dirty tactics like assimilation and rough tackling that forced three of Botswana players to be taken off. It was, however, a blessing in disguise when Kaone Molefhe, who was giving the Chinese a hard time, limped off and was replaced by Kekaetswe ‘Mara’ Moloi.

He made his presence felt just three minutes before half time. He put Botswana in the lead with a long range shot after receiving a ball unmarked following confusion in the Chinese defense. After the break, Ecco City Greens man of the moment, Tebogo Sembowa, scored one of the beautiful goals of the tournament. He also took a long range shot after sending three Chinese defenders the wrong way. It was late for the Chinese goalkeeper Da-Lei Wang who had to retrieve the ball from the net. Midway through the second half, Moloi increased Chinese woes after dribbling past two Chinese defenders and slotting the ball into an empty net. The last nail in the Chinese coffin was hammered by another substitute, Jackie Mothatego, who came in for Mosimanegape Ramohibidu who left the pitch in a stretcher.

After the final whistle, the Chinese technical bench could not believe their loss. The technical bench, led by Dujakovic, was under hostile interrogation from Chinese media that accompanied the team. After the game, Dujakovic praised Botswana for the victory. He said the team utilized their chances, while his players fluffed theirs. He also said the pitch had a hand in their loss because it was not suitable for his players.

“The better team won and Botswana played very well throughout the game. I could not believe it because they are nowhere to be seen in the world of football while China is known and will be hosting next year’s Olympics. This team really surprised me and I think they can go places if their performance against us is anything to go by,” he said.

Meanwhile, the former Zebras coach, who is now with the developmental sides, Jellusic Vesselin, also praised Botswana boys for the job well done. For him he was not surprised by the victory because the players have been together for a long time. He said most of the players played many games together many of which they lost heavily but have since learned a lot from that.

The tournament is divided into two groups and Botswana is in group A. Group B consists of Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ghana and Lesotho.


Read this week's paper