Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Zebras’ Road to Afcon 2027 starts now

Botswana along with Namibia are putting their hands up to co-host the 36th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in 2027.

Should the bid succeed, Botswana, as with Namibia, will have to prove they belong as equals on the playing field. This means putting forth a team that can compete with the best in the continent.

For the country to achieve this, the time to build starts now. As history shows, building a winning team takes time. It is an effort which most of the time takes years to come to fruition.

This can be clearly seen in the instances where Botswana appeared at the Afcon and the Women Africa Cup of Nations (WAfcon) in 2012 and 2022 respectively. In both cases, it had taken over a decade to build a winning team. The achievement was not purely based on luck as many would want others to believe.

Botswana’s journey to the 2012 Afcon can be traced to the country’s first junior national teams to make the Afcon under 17 finals in 1995 and 1997 respectively. The players from these teams, who included the likes of Diphetogo Selolwane, Mompati Thuma and Mogogi Gabonamong, just to mention a few would go on to make the spine of the national team.

Over the years leading to 2012, this core of players was beefed up by a cohort of emerging youthful stars, most of them from the junior national teams. These included the likes of Phenyo Mongala, Jerome Ramatlhakwane, Moemedi Moatlhaping, Kabelo Dambe and Mogakolodi Ngele, just to mention but a few.

Interestingly, even as coaches came and went, the spine of the national team remained intact. David Bright, Colwyn Rowe, Veselin Jelusic and eventually Stanley Tshosane all contributed as the team was built over the years. Here, continuity was the order of the day.

Now as Botswana builds towards co-hosting Afcon 2027 finals, lessons should be learned from the past. Local football scribe City Keagakwa says to rebuild the Zebras, BFA should focus on administration, coach education and development structure.

At administrative level, he said a proper result-oriented strategy with clear cut plans should be put in place. “It is important because if your strategy is well aligned with your development programmes then it is easy to know when a national team will be complete.”

He implored Botswana to emulate countries who used hosting as a building block for future successes. “We need to be realistic about the challenges before us and start working on our teams and see them as projects. In 2006, Germany hosted the World Cup they did not win it but from there they went on to change the football philosophy in their country and eventually won the world cup in 2014. We can do the same,” he says.

Keagakwa further said ‘football has no shortcuts’ and success does not happen by mistake.

While national team players are mostly selected on merit based on current form, a need to have a consistent core of players cannot be understated. Consistency and patience with both players and coaches is key.

“Mogomotsi Mpote has shown over the years that he is capable of leading the team. Unfortunately, we want him to win all the time. We first have to appreciate where we are as a country. We have to give him time so long as we are still on our road map because establishing a core takes time it is not an overnight thing,” he observes.

“The same players he coached at the U23 are the same players he has called to the national team. If given four or five years at the helm, he can build the core of Zebras again to take us where we want to be,” Keagakwa says.

With regards to the latest successes by the women senior national team, he says the country risks regression if no plan is put in place. ‘The Mares’ recent debut at the WAfcon finals was a culmination of years of building. This has been helped by the BFA’s patience with coach Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang, who has held the reigns for a long time to build her team.

“BFA has proven over the years that they never have a succession plan in place, hence the downfall of Zebras. If Ronaldo was to leave, I fear for the worst for The Mares.  Despite failing for so long she managed to establish a core and growing the team,” he said.

He is of the view that The Mares’ were fortunate as ‘BFA was not so much interested in women football,’ thus ‘allowing Nkutlwisang to build without interference.’ The recent successes and expectations that comes with them may however change that.

“We now hear comments like the ‘the easiest way to the world cup or consistently qualifying for WAfcon is through women football.’ The concerning part is that there is no strategy or long-term plan concerning what we wish to achieve with The Mares in 2027 or 2030. There is no clear information which communicates to such,” Keagakwa observes.

Pointing to what happened to the Zebras post 2012, he says the BFA’s strategy is always weak and blur. He believes the association has stopped building for long term success, but is rather just focused on short term wins. This, he concludes, is the problem with local football.

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