Friday, July 1, 2022

U-17 show up among Africa’s Cr├¿me de-la Cr├¿me

Botswana’s national Under 17 is destined to go places. They are arguably the best youth team to come from Botswana bearing in mind the journey they have travelled so far and eventually qualifying for the tenth edition of Africa Youth Championships.

Botswana is the only country from Southern Africa to make it for next year’s tournament that will be held in Morocco from April 13-27. Southern African power houses like Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe could not make it while Botswana deservedly qualified after sweating blood in all the three matches played.

Of the eight teams that qualified for the tournament, those that make it to the semi-finals will make it to the World Youth Championships. Botswana won all the three matches against Malawi, Rwanda and Algeria on penalties after a stalemate.

The diamond Zebras proved to be a force to reckon with because even when they were a player down they kept on fighting. The team also looks to have adapted to the harsh conditions of playing away as they won two of their matches away.

The diamond Zebras started their journey to Morocco against Malawi. They lost 2-1 away and won by the same margin at home, which got them to a penalty shootout they eventually won.

Next on the menu was Rwanda which has strong youth structures. At some stage their youth teams were regular features at World Youth Championships. Diamond Zebras won by a lone goal at home and lost by the same score-line in Kigali. The results also meant a penalty shootout and Botswana won again.

After the Rwanda encounter, coach Kagiso Kobedi said the encounter was one of the toughest because the stadium was filled to capacity and the officiating terrible.

Botswana managed to fight on until the last minute when they conceded a goal that sent the match into penalties. The Diamond Zebras silenced the 60 000 capacity crowd and set a date with the Algerians.

Just like many North African countries, Algeria has strong youth structures compared to Botswana, producing many good players as a result.

Botswana on the other hand has played several North African countries and rarely struggled compared to those from the West.

The diamond Zebras did not at all show any respect for the Algerians as they went for the kill from the onset. The North Africans on the other hand also fought hard. The local lads were dealt a big blow midway the first half when utility player, Kabelano Mooketsane, was sent off for an early shower for a dangerous play.

The Diamond Zebras then had to show character by breaching the net first before the Algerians equalized. The second leg, played on Sunday, was also tough but the Diamond Zebras once again showed character.

Thatayaone Ramatlapeng scored the beautiful goal in the mid second half after the Algerians had taken the lead in the first half. Ramatlapeng scored almost a similar goal to the one of the first leg.

His goal meant penalty lotto and Young Zebras did what they did in the previous two encounters. They won 4-2 to the disappointment of many Algerians who thought their team would have a field day. It is the third time Botswana has qualified for the African Youth Champions. Many people also believe the current team is capable of making it to the World Championships that will be held in United Arab Emirates next year October.

The first time was in 1995 in Mali. That time Botswana played Zambia in the qualifications. Zambia won with an aggregate score of 6-1 and they were disqualified for allegedly using over-aged players. That meant Botswana progressed and played Malawi. Botswana beat Malawi with an aggregate score of 2-1 and qualified. The team then lost all their three opening matches and came home empty handed.

In 1997 Botswana were the hosts but still failed to live up to expectations as they also lost all their three opening matches and managed to score just a single goal.

It now remains to be seen how the team will fare in Morocco. The other seven teams that have made it to the tournament are Morocco (hosts), Tunisia, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Congo Brazzaville.

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