Sunday, May 16, 2021

Under 23 starts Olympic campaign with a bang

Botswana’s national Under 23 side could be on track to emulate the 2007/8 class, which was the best the country has ever produced. The team showed class and character against Kenya in their first game of the Africa Championships qualifiers, beating the Harambe stars 3-0. Their win did not come as a surprise because they created many scoring opportunities throughout the game.

Though they did not qualify for any major tournaments, the 2007/8 team that was coached by Major David Bright beat several high profile countries and put Botswana on the world map. For the first time ever, Botswana was represented in the group stages of the 2008 Olympics, and went on to beat countries like, Tunisia, Morocco and Angola. The Under 23 team also came second in an Eight Nations tournament in South Africa. Thereafter, the team participated in a Four Nations tournament in China were they became the ultimate champions. Botswana beat countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Cameroon and even Ghana. Because of their sterling performance, some 2007/8 national Under 23 players, together with coach David Bright, earned themselves lucrative foreign contracts.

Fast forward to 2015, Botswana once again has an Under 23 team that could match the prowess of its 2007/8 side. If the team’s performance against Kenya was used as a yardstick, the team is definitely on the road to success. Several players in the team went through proper development structures as they were part of the Under 17 side that qualified for the 2013 Africa Championships. The team’s coach, Pio Paul, was once a rigorous international player of repute. He also serves as senior national team coach James Peter Butler’s assistant.

Against Kenya, Botswana showed determination from the onset and eventually took advantage of Kenyan jetlag especially in the second half. Kenya arrived just a few hours before the match and their exhaustion was evident in the second half.

After a goalless first half, Botswana scored two quick goals in a space of four minutes through Omaata Kebatho and Onkabetse Makgantai in the opening proceedings of the second half. After the two goals the Young Zebras kept on surging forward while at the same time keeping a hawks’ eye at the back. They put the last nail in Young Harambe Stars coffin three minutes from time through Kebatho. Clearly the best player on the day, Kebatho launched an attack in the midfield and personally completed the move with a powerful shot that left Kenya goalie Ian Otieno sprawled on the turf. Botswana has an advantage because they did not concede any away goals and the Kenyans will have a tough time overcoming the deficit on May 8th. If Botswana finally wins they will meet Zambia in the next qualifier. Teams that finish on the top three at the championships automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.

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