Sunday, May 29, 2022

The retiring Zebras

Botswana’s national team has over the years improved drastically and has even shaken off their once popular nickname, ‘The whipping boys of Africa.

Botswana is no longer the weakest team and results are there for the world to see. The country even shocked many people last year by qualifying for Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) that was co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Though they did not do well, they still made a mark. What is even more interesting is the fact that there appears to have been no problem of transition when some players retired, to be replaced by new ones.

Zebras started showing signs of improvement under the tutelage of Serbian, Jellusic Vesselin who was then assisted by incumbent Stanley Tshosane. Vesselin then left the team around 2007 and that meant a new coach in the name of Colywn Rowe from Britain came on board. Rowe did not last in the team and eventually Tshosane, who was also in charge when the team qualified for Afcon, took over.

The time of Vesselin to Tshosane saw a lot of players also calling it a day because age had caught up with them. This meant new players had to take the foret. Core players who were Veselin’s untouchables were the likes of Ernest Amos, Masego Nchingane, Phaza Butale, Khumo Motlhabane but they also ended up leaving and that meant new players had to come in. Currently the Zebras are facing the same dilemma after Vesselin left. Already one of experienced defenders, Ndiapo Letsholathebe has called it a day and another old horse and captain who used to be partnered with Letsholathebe, Mompati Thuma is also retiring. Thuma made it clear that yesterday’s game against South Africa was his last in the blue colours.

Thuma is arguably one of the best defenders to have come out of the country and it will be a terribly blow to lose a player of his calibre. He played for almost all junior teams in Botswana and was part of the under 17 when Botswana host the championships in 1997. Back then he was a striker and coach Ray Whelan converted him to defence.

He started playing for Zebras around 2001 and has never looked back. This then means there is already a huge void to fill at the back because his long time partner has just left. Already Obuile Ncenga has proved himself as the man to take over Letsholathebe but it will take a bit of time because he needs to be soaked first in many international matches.

For Thuma it looks like the void might take some time because special players are not easily replaced. Other valuable players who might leave the team at any time are the duo of Tshepo Motlhabankwe and Mogogi Gabonamong.

Already age is not on their side as they are approaching their mid-thirties. Gabonamong appears set to bow out because he wants to concentrate on club football before winding his career in the South Africa professional league. The Supersport man is also one of those players that went through almost all development structures in Botswana and one of the first players to break into South African premier league. Every time he is in the field of play, his presence is felt. He has played for the senior team when he was still 17. Despite having not been played for all junior teams in Botswana, that did not deter Motlhabankwe who forced his way into the senior national team. Motlhabankwe used to play both defensive and attacking role in the midfield, currently the coach prefers using him on the right. With all these players looking set to leave the team, the question is whether the team would be seriously affected or young players would easily fit in.

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