Saturday, September 19, 2020

Under 23s: unappreciated talent going to waste

The untimely death of former Under 23 coach, Banks Panene, last year left many people devastated because he had just formed a formidable team.
The BFA had to scout around and ended up roping in Major David Bright, as a stop gap measure.

Bright proved to be the suitable candidate even though the time was not right because the qualifiers for both the Olympics and All Africa Games were around the corner. Bright then shocked many people because what he achieved was beyond many people’s expectations. Beating great nations like Tunisia, Angola, Morocco and Guinea was incredible, especially considering that they used mediocre players. Winning the Four Nations Tournament in China ahead of the hosts, Japan and South Korea, and even settling for a silver medal at the eight Nations Sasol tournament in Johannesburg was something also never ever imagined in Botswana. En-route to the finals, great African countries like Cameroon and Ghana felt the wrath of Botswana.

After losing with an aggregate score of 4-0 against South Africa in the last game for the All Africa Games, Bright realised that the team was running out of steam because there were many games to be played with a little pool to select from.

In both encounters with the South Africans, Botswana missed the services of several players because of injuries, suspensions and through the senior national team. Bright then formed a B side where he unearthed many good players, like Tebogo Sembowa, Molatedi Mabina, Alphonse Modisaotsile and Jackie Mothatego. The B team helped him to immediately deal with any problems that would arise in his A team. Even though the Under 23s did not qualify for the Olympics, it was seen as a solid foundation for the senior team that had failed to qualify for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. The senior team was immediately exposed as lacking in composure and mental strength. As such, it was believed that many faces from the Under 23s needed to be blended with some senior team players. That has not been the case because only three players from the Under 23s are sometimes picked for the team, and these are Gobonyeone Selefa, Noah Maposa and Moreetsi Mosimanyana who are rarely used.

Jerome Ramatlhakwane and Dirang Moloi should be counted out because they were always called up when Under 23s were in competitive games. The duo was not there during the Sasol Eight Nations and even in China.

The question asked by many Batswana and some sports enthusiasts from other countries who were following the progress of the team with keen interest, is whether the team had gone down the drain.

Last year, at the Mascom Premier League awards, the recently resigned General Manager of South Africa’s flourishing Premier League, Andrew Dipela, called on the BFA to keep the team together so that in future it is the best national team Botswana has ever seen.

“I have never seen a greater team from Botswana like your under 23 which you call the dream team. Keep it together for years to come and I am telling you it can go places,” said Dipela last year.

Dipela’s words seem to have fallen in deaf ears because most of the dream team players are just idling at their respective teams. The question is whether the national team coach does not see any value in them, if so how then did they excel against much feared countries? The other question is whether the BFA is ignoring the team. Some experts even say at least it should have been the one used in some of the friendly games in which the Zebras disappointed. Rowe just stuck to the same players he uses in the same games in and out.

The BFA’s Chief Executive Officer, Mooketsi ‘Tosh’ Kgotlele, is also a worried man when it comes to the Under 23 team. He agrees that the team is a germ that cannot be easily ignored because they put the country on the world map and have the potential of doing even more. He, however, said they are still looking at a variety of options to make the team effective.

“Obviously it is worrying and that team did a lot for this country. However, with the appointment of Stan Tshosane as the assistant coach, we believe he will do something with that team. Some of the options we are looking at are to make it the reserve team of the senior team. It is a known fact by many people that the team can take us somewhere,” Kgotlele said.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.