Sunday, September 24, 2023

They Came, They Kicked, They Won Hearts

Botswana women senior national team may have bowed out in the quarterfinals of the ongoing Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON), but what an impression they have left.

Pitted against African powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa in the group stages, the local girls could have just rolled on the ground and let the continental favorites trample over them. But not these Mares!

Rolling on the ground and being a savory feast is not in their DNA. Instead, they ran and kicked above their own weight. They defied expectations and made the country proud.

Even against hosts Morocco in a very intimidating and hostile Lionesses’ pride woodland of Moulay Abdellah Sports Complex, ‘The Mares’ showed no fear. Even the blue laser lights shone in their faces could not deter them.  

Their display has since won the hearts and admiration both at home and abroad. Speaking in an interview, the Mares coach Gaolethoo Nkutlwisang said ‘they have had only admiration from the international media and coaches.’

“Our girls have won plaudits from the international media and coaches mainly because of their display. What has impressed them the most is that almost the entire team, except for two players, are playing in our local leagues,” she said.

Today, (Sunday 17th), as the Mares gallop into the Moroccan turfs one last time to take on Cameroon in the World Cup qualifiers, they will have one thing in their minds, to finish what they started!

The winner of the match between the two will then go on to play the intercontinental playoffs where the ultimate winner will qualify to play at the 2023 women’s FIFA World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

While basking in the admiration and good wishes they have garnered, it will not be lost to Nkutlwisang and the team that they still have to earn their stripes. And once again, they are willing to give their all.

“We know this game will be very difficult. We will however be ready for Cameroon. We have had time to recover and analyze them and we are going to give it our all,” the Mares coach explained.

Nkutlwisang went on to add that while aware their opponents will be difficult, her team is not going to just roll over. Instead, she said they will fight for every ball and every point.

“As a team, we have come here to fight for every point. We know Cameroon wants a spot in the women’s FIFA World Cup next year. But we also want that spot. We want to continue our growth and see ourselves there,” says the coach.

For this final game, Nkutlwisang will be able to call on all her players, bar Golebaone Selebatso. The player got injured during Botswana’s clash with Nigeria and has since been ruled out of the tournament.

“Everyone is ready for selection. Even Balotlhanyi Johannes who was suspended will be back in contention. We will see during training sessions who raises her hand to be selected for this crucial game,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Mares efforts at the ongoing tournament have not gone unnoticed. To this end, striker Refilwe Tholakele is among the nominees for Africa women’s player of the season while Nkutlwisang’s name is in the hat for coach of the season honours. The selection of both is a plus for the country given that Tholakele plies her trade locally while Nkutlwisang is not a full time national team coach.


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