Unlike in the past when the Zebras left the country for international games, the mood was at an all time low among the supporters on Thursday morning.
Many Batswana have lost hope on the team following a series of poor shows from the Zebras. Even the lukewarm 1-0 win over Malawi in an international friendly game in midweek did not improve the situation.
Under-fire coach Stanley Tshosane is aware of the situation and he has promised that his side would put up a show which will surely win back most of the supporters upon their return.
The Zebras take on Ethiopia in a crucial 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium in Addis Ababa this afternoon (kick off 4pm). It is a game which the visitors have to win at all costs with or without some of the players Tshosane would have liked to take to East Africa.
The Zebras lie at the bottom of Group A with a single point gained from a 1-1 drawn match against South Africa in Gaborone in June. The Wayla Antelopes top the group with four points from two games. A loss would further harm the Zebras’ chances of proceeding to the next stage of the qualifiers.
On paper, the Ethiopians are firm favourites to white-wash their visitors, especially after an impressive performance at the 2013 African Nations Cup (Afcon) in January. On the Fifa rankings, Ethiopia is ranked 112 in the world while Botswana is on the 122nd spot. But football has proven to be a game of surprises and it will come as no surprise if the Zebras get out of Addis Ababa with maximum points. At the same time, the Zebras have fared badly in the away games since their first qualification prior to the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
The Zebras had their first training session in Addis Ababa on Friday morning and Tshosane remains optimistic.
“I must applaud the BFA because this time around they’ve given us all we wanted. We asked for a direct flight from Johannesburg and we got it. This has given us enough time to prepare and acclimatize to the conditions. There is no doubt that Ethiopia is a strong side but we’ve studied their DVDs and I’m confident that we’ll come with a result,” said Tshosane.
The former BDF XI coach is known for his defensive approach, especially in the away games but this time around he might be forced to go for broke. Tshosane is aware that they need to be on the offensive if there are to come with a result. He hinted that he might use two strikers.
The Zebras arrived in Ethiopia without two experienced central defenders, Mogogi Gabonamong and Ndiyapo Letsholathebe.
“We’ll have to do with what we have but I must confess that the absence of Mogogi has killed us. Had I known in time that he’ll not be available, I would have made another plan,” he said.
Mauritanian referee Redouane Jiyed will handle the game assisted by his countrymen, Mohamed Lahmidi and Mouhib Filali. Hicham Tiazi will be the fourth official.
Tickets for the 35,000-seater stadium are said to be selling fast and the Zebras are likely to play under an intimidating atmosphere.
The ten group winners from the qualifiers will proceed to the third round. The teams will be paired into five home-and-away ties. The matches will likely be played between 11-15 October and 15-19 November 2013. The five teams that win their respective ties will qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.