It was all ululations and standing ovations for Botswana’s national Under 23 team when they made history by qualifying for the group stages of the Olympic Games. The team even went to the extent of bowing out in the last lap of the All Africa Games after beating heavyweights like Angola. However, during the celebrations for the team by the nation, disturbing developments cropped up bit by bit. In three games, the team accumulated a total of five red cards that resulted in suspensions.
Some of the suspensions are seen as having contributed to some of the games Botswana lost. The typical example was against South Africa where several key players were missing and South Africa ended up defeating Botswana with a total margin of 4-0 in two encounters. A win over South Africa could have assured Botswana a place at the important All Africa Games that are due to start in a few weeks.
It all started in the game against Angola, which Botswana won 2-0. Two reliable defenders, Gabriel Bokhutlo and Moreetsi Mosimanyana, received their marching orders. Fortunately, the team fought hard and did not concede a single goal. Things nearly got out of hand in the second leg in Luanda where Botswana ended up winning after a penalty shoot out. Striker Jerome Ramatlhakwane, together with the assistant coach, Kenneth Mogae, were also sent off and Angola managed to come back to score two goals to equalize; but they squandered their chances during the penalty shootout. About a fortnight ago, when the Under 23 visited Morocco for an Olympic qualifier which they lost by a goal, left back Boniface ‘Zolo’ Makolo received a red card for a second bookable offence. This then means Makolo is going to miss upcoming games and his replacement might find it difficult to fit comfortably. With such endless suspensions in most of the games played by the team, people are wondering whether they will reach the desired heights with such a record. Some people even go to the extent of saying the team is rough while others say it is ill disciplined. People even wonder whether the boys ever learn from previous games to avoid future suspensions.
Meanwhile, Mogae has come to the defence of his players. He said the players did not deserve most of the red cards flashed at them. He said most of the cards were a result of intimidation from the opposition players and poor officiating. He said if it were not for that they would not have accumulated most of the red cards.
“Our players are just fine. They normally go out to play football, nothing else. The problem is that most of the teams we have played against are good at intimidating and feign to have been roughly tackled. Some referees in such instances side with the opposition players and punish our players. Most of the players of the countries we played against are professionals when it comes to intimidation while our boys are just innocent,” he said.
Mogae also said they always try to talk to the players but in most cases some of the actions in the field of play are beyond their control.
Most Batswana now wonder whether more suspensions are in the offing in the upcoming games. The team needs to win their next game to keep their hopes of qualifying for the games alive.
The road, however, is already bumpy because other opponents, Cameroon, have already won their opening game with a huge margin of 6-1 against Guinea. Bearing in mind that only one country makes it to China, Botswana has a mammoth task ahead of them indeed.