Botswana’s journey to the 2012 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon gets underway in earnest this week.
After there were doubts as to whether the Botswana Football Association (BFA) is doing enough to prepare the team for the continental showpiece, the Zebras have secured a high-profile international friendly game against the Super Eagles of Nigeria on November 12.
The game will be played at the 20,000 seater Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, 368km outside the capital city Abuja.
This will be the first time the Zebras face the Super Eagles and it will be interesting to see how the match goes.
Until recently, the Zebras have been considered the minnows of African football but the recent rise has made some of the powerhouses seek friendly games in Botswana.
There is no doubt that Nigerians know little about Botswana football and most of them expect their side to run over the Zebras. Nigeria is ranked sixth in Africa while Botswana is sitting on 23rd position.
On paper, this should be an easy game for the hosts. But in recent times, football has proven that the gap between big giants and minnows has been reduced.
Botswana is an example having finished top of their 2012 AFCON qualifiers despite having giants like Tunisia, Togo and Malawi.
The Zebras’ head coach, Stanley Tshosane, has hinted that when he leaves with his troops on Thursday for Nigeria, they will go with one thing in mind, to make Batswana happy.
Tshosane did not have enough time to work with his players in the past week as he had just arrived from AFCON draw in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea but he is confident that he will take a strong squad to West Africa.
“There are things I would have loved to have introduced by now, unfortunately it’s late. I can’t disclose them now but I want to believe that by the time the tournament starts, we’ll be ready. I’m happy that Nigeria has announced a strong squad for the game as it will help us a lot,” said Tshosane.
Though he would have liked to play another strong side after Nigeria, Tshosane believes that the Super Eagles would give his side the necessary test.
On Friday afternoon, national team captain Mompati Thuma was delighted that the association had managed to secure them a strong opposition like Nigeria. He said that the game will help gauge them against tougher opposition unlike in the past.
“This (playing Nigeria) is a good thing for us going, considering that the other three sides in our group come from West Africa. The game against Nigeria will help us familiarise ourselves with our opponents at the tournament. We’re not going out there to let Nigeria dictate terms to us,” said Thuma.
The national team skipper has just recovered from a long-term injury but he is confident that he will be in the right shape when they face the Nigerians. South African-based Mogogi Gabonamong, Diphetogo Selolwane (both Supersport United), Boitumelo Mafoko, Jerome Ramatlhakwana (both Cape Town Santos), Modiri Marumo (Bay United) and Phenyo Mongala (Bloemfontein Celtic) are all expected to be in camp by tomorrow morning. Tshosane will then announce his squad to face Nigeria on Tuesday morning. Newly-appointed Nigerian head coach Stephen Keshi knows that losing against the Zebras would put him under pressure hence he has announced a strong 28-man team for the game.
Keshi comes into the hot seat replacing Samson Siasia who was fired last week after he failed to take the Super Eagles to next year’s continental games. The hopes of over 140 million people lies on Keshi’s shoulders whose flawless resume is said to have won him the coaching job.
“I will try to do my utmost best to bring back joy to Nigerian people. There are challenges all over the place but I just have to keep my focus and see what happens,” he told the BBC after being appointed Nigerian boss. In the squad to face the Zebras, Keshi has named, amongst others, Osaze Odemwingie (West Brom, England), Mikel Obi (Chelsea, England), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham, England), Joseph Yobo (Fernerbahce, Turkey), Taye Taiwo (AC Milan, Italy) and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (Lille, France).