It all started as a dream but that dream turned into a humiliating loss, leaving thousands of Batswana who travelled to Durban to cheer on the Zebras but full of lost words.
Ahead of the 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier against South Africa at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Zebras’ supporters were full of hope that their team would cause an upset against their more formidable opponents. Hours before the kick off, clad in blue outfits, Zebras sang and danced. They waived the country’s flags high in anticipation of what they termed as “Operation Durban”.
As the Zebras walked into the pitch, there was deafening noise from the supporters. “This game means everything to us and I hope the players would not disappoint. But Bafana Bafana have named a strong line-up which might send us home with our tails between the legs,” said one supporter just before the national anthems were played.
The Zebras went into the game with seven points from five games and win over South Africa would have given the local supporters some hope of proceeding through to the third phase. This was only going to happen if Ethiopia had lost to Central Africa in a match which was played at a neutral venue in Congo.
Bafana Bafana made their intentions clear when they raided the Zebras’ defence with attack after attack. Buoyed by their fans, Bafana looked like men on a mission. The locals did not allow the Zebras any space with their midfield marshaled by Dean Furman and Kagisho Dikgacoi. The hosts got off the mark in the 30th minute when nippy midfielder Kermit Erasmus headed home after the Zebras left him unmarked at the far post. It was returning defender Mogogi Gabonamong who conceded an unnecessary corner which led to the goal.
The Zebras’ defence was in sixes and sevens whenever they had to deal with the attacking trio of Tekelo Rantie, Erasmus and Bernard Parker. The Zebras hardly tested their opposition goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune. The local lads huffed and puffed as midfielders Joel Mogorosi, Jackie Mothatego and Galabgwe Moyana went to sleep for the entire first half. When everyone was leaving their seats for halftime, Bafana Bafana increased their lead through Furman who pushed forward and found space on the left side of Botswana defence. The Moses Mabhida Stadium scoreboard read 2-0 at the break.
At this time, the Zebras looked dead and buried. At halftime Batswana were counting their losses. Some blamed experienced defenders Gabonamong and skipper Mompati Thuma for giving away possession in crucial defensive areas which led to the opposition goals.
When the Zebras stole a goal with about 15 minutes remaining thanks to a powerful header from striker Jerome Ramatlhakwana, it gave the travelling supporters some hope that their team can push the hosts to the end. The goal brought panic to the South Africans something which led the fans signaling for substitutions. Bafana Bafana striker Parker scored a late brace in the 85th and 89th minutes to hand the Zebras a humiliating defeat. But Bafana’s emphatic win all went into smoke as Ethiopia narrowly beat CAR 2-1 to be Group A winners and proceed to the third phase of the qualifications.
As the fans headed home with their heads down, Zebras’ head coach Stanley Tshosane told the journalists that his defence gifted South Africa with all the goals. “I don’t really know what was going on. We came with a plan to frustrate South Africa for the opening 30 minutes,” said Tshosane.
As to what is going to happen next as people have been calling for his head, Tshosane pointed out that Botswana Football Association are the ones who will decide on the future.
Zebras’ midfielder Ofentse Nato summed up the performance, “obviously we are disappointed by the defeat. We wanted to give our best but it didn’t happen. I think next time we start the qualifiers, all the stakeholders need to sit down together and do proper planning. We could have done better if there was necessary support.” The Zebras arrived in Gaborone on Sunday night.