When the Eagles of Mali descended into Botswana three years ago (October 13th, 2012), they left local football fans with a bitter pill to swallow having hammered the Zebras 4-1 (7-1 on aggregate) in the 2013 African Nations Cup qualifier played at Lobatse Sports Stadium. It is one game which Batswana put extensive pressure on Botswana Football Association (BFA) executive committee to fire the then Zebras’ head coach Stanley Tshosane. This was despite the fact that eight months earlier, Tshosane did the unthinkable by leading the Zebras to their maiden appearance at the African Nations Cup.
While memories of that fateful day in Lobatse have long dissipated, the West Africans will visit our shores early next month to battle for a place at the World Cup scheduled for Russia in 2018. While many would have wished for a better fixture following the Eritrean trouncing, many can take solace from the fact that the Zebras recently registered a win over another giant, Burkina Faso. Football fans argue that since Francistown Sports Stadium has turned into a slaughterhouse for the visiting nations, it is ideal that the qualifier against the Eagles be taken to the northern city. Even Peter Butler, concurred with those sentiments when he said Francistown should be turned into the “Home of the Zebras” in a post-match interview on Tuesday night.
Tshosane believes that the Zebras have improved tremendously since the last time they faced Mali. He remains confident that if the technical team put their heads together, then there is likely to be remarkable improvement. “There is no doubt that we’re underdogs coming into this (Mali) game, but Butler has done a fantastic job in improving our team. I watched the game against Eritrea and I was impressed by what I saw. There was a lot of urgency in our boys and they worked together as a unit which is important in modern football,” said Tshosane.
The former Zebras’ boss added that the local boys need to carry the same spirit they displayed in the recent games into the Eagles’ game. He was however worried by the fact that the Zebras create a lot of chances which they fail to convert. “You cannot blame Butler for the missed chances because we’ve the same problem at club level. But the belief is there,” he said.
On the strengths of Mali, Tshosane said it is important to study the tapes of the West Africans before they land on our shores. “Mali are good at playing short passes because they have mobile midfielders. We need to closely monitor them,” he said.