It might be hard to swallow for many Batswana buts it’s reality: Botswana’s national Under 23 team’s historic chances of qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics are very slim, and only divine intervention can help the team.
The team might have exceeded expectations of many Batswana by their impressive performances in their past games but the road to China is rocky and riddled by uncertainties. The young Zebras are the first ever team from Botswana to reach the group stages of the Olympic games and even the first team to bow out in the last lap of the All Africa Games early this year.
The predicament in which the senior team, the Zebras, found themselves in might as well befall the Young Zebras next March when they play their last game against Cameroon, away in Yaound├®. The Zebras lost games they should have easily won and put themselves under tremendous pressure.
They had to win an away game against Egypt, the reigning champions and winning in Cairo was definitely going to be difficult because even the Egyptians were not guaranteed a place. For the Under 23 to make it, they must pray Cameroon does not win any of their two remaining games provided they (Botswana) do not either draw or lose their two remaining games. Cameroon have eight points, Morocco seven while Botswana and Guinea have four and three respectively. What has even exacerbated the situation for Botswana is the ruling by FIFA, the world football governing body, against Botswana in the first leg game against Guinea. Botswana had protested the game saying it was played in a waterlogged stadium and had six of their players injured thus resulting in the referee stopping the game thirteen minutes before fulltime. At that time, Guinea was leading 2-0. FIFA has in turn granted Guinea three points saying Botswana players faked the injuries.
However, a real soldier always fights until the final whistle and that’s what, the coach of the team, retired general Major David Bright is saying. He is optimistic that Botswana can make history by qualifying for Beijing if they win two of their remaining games.
“If we beat Morocco and Cameroon in the remaining games provided Guinea do us a favour by beating or playing to a draw against Cameroon. This is football and anything is possible. Once you have mathematical chances you need to fight until the last game,” Bright said recently. On the other hand, if Cameroon wins one of their two remaining games, it would be over for Botswana and the war would be between Cameroon and Morocco.
If Botswana defeat Morocco next month at the National Stadium, provided Cameroon does not get full points against Guinea, Botswana would be in another lion’s den. Cameroon’s youth teams rarely lose at home and are regular qualifiers for major tournaments around the world.
Morocco is also another big threat. If Botswana defeat Morocco both of them will be on level points but currently Morocco have goal advantage. The young Atlas Lions would be wrapping up their campaign against Guinea at home. That would require that Botswana win by a bigger margin against Cameroon and for that matter away. Morocco would just be enjoying the home ground advantage and might put many past Guinea. Even Cameroon would also be basking in the glory of home ground advantage and, for a country like Botswana, snatching a win is definitely going to be a huge task in Cameroon.
The recent 2-1 victory by Botswana over Guinea also proved that the country does not have prolific goal scorers.
Gobonyeone ‘Shoes’ Selefa, who is a defender, scored all two goals for Botswana while strikers huffed, puffed and fumbled in front of the goalposts. In the absence of Moemedi Moatlhaping and Jerome Ramatlhakwane things hardly sail smoothly. The expectation is that Ramatlhakwane together with Moatlhaping come back. In the 2-0 win against Angola for the All Africa Games, Ramatlhakwane scored the second goal. In addition Moatlhaping scored in the historic win over Tunisia and that guaranteed a slot in the group stages. Also the central midfield needs someone who can dictate terms to make things easier for the wingers and even the top men. The only player who fits that role is Notwane midfielder Dirang Moloi. In the victory against Tunisia, Moloi was the one who supplied a killer pass to Moathaping resulting in a goal.