Friday, May 7, 2021

Zebras road to AFCON 2012

Not long ago, Botswana used to be the whipping boys of many African countries, which used to thrash them with an avalanche of goals.

Batswana, however, did not lose faith in football as they kept on supporting the team and that has finally paid off.

It just seems like yesterday when the Zebras were being ruthlessly defeated.

The memorable thrashings include the qualification for the 1996 AFCON, which was shifted to South Africa at the last minute after Kenya proved unprepared.

Botswana then was in the same group as Mali, Guinea, Angola and Mozambique.
All the countries humiliated Botswana and it all started with Mali that won 3-1 in Botswana and 5-0 at home.

Guinea won by a solitary goal in Botswana and wrapped it up 4-0 in Conakry.

Angola, on the other hand, won 2-1 in Botswana and 4-0 at home, while Mozambique won both their encounters by four goals at home and in Gaborone.

Botswana scored only two goals, courtesy of Mmoni ‘States’ Segopolo against Angola and Itumeleng ‘Tumie’ Duiker against Mali.

After such humiliating defeats, the team was disbanded and a new foundation was put in place and the road has not been easy for the team.

It took more than hard work to be where it is now.

Over the past few years, results came bit by bit. It all started in 2003 under then coach, Jelusic Vesselin, who many believe to have instilled a fighting spirit and self belief in the team.
The Zebras thrashed Lesotho 4-1 to pave themselves a way into the group stages for the 2006 World Cup. Botswana found themselves in the middle of African giants like Tunisia (then AFCON defending champions), Morocco (then AFCON finalists) together with Kenya and Malawi.

Botswana did not lose that badly to Morocco and Tunisia and managed to pick points against Kenya and Malawi, something that was unheard of before.

Improvement signs started to show in the regional tourney, COSAFA and spilled to the 2010 World Cup and AFCON qualifiers when Botswana managed to hold teams like three-time African champs, Egypt and Ivory Coast to a draw.

Another element that actually catapulted the Zebras was the excellent performance of the national Under 23, a feeder to the Zebras. The National Under 23 made the country proud by qualifying for the group stages of the 2008 Olympic Games and nearly made it to the 2009 All Africa Games, only to bow out in the last hurdle.

They beat countries like Tunisia, Morocco and Angola. Then came the qualifications for AFCON 2012 where Botswana once again was in the middle of African giants.

The group consisted of Tunisia, Togo, Malawi and Chad. Many people already wrote Botswana off and Tunisia, Togo and Malawi were seen as major favourites but Botswana proved otherwise.

It started in June last year when the World Cup was in full swing in South Africa when Botswana travelled to Tunisia. Many people ruled Botswana out and the World Cup attention made things worse.
Botswana defied all odds and won by a solitary goal. Chad then came to Botswana a little latter and felt Botswana’s wrath by being defeated also by a solitary goal.

Botswana then went to Malawi and came with a valuable point before shocking the world by beating Togo in Gaborone.

Last month, Botswana made history by qualifying for their maiden appearance at the 2012 AFCON through beating Chad away to send the country into wild celebrations.

Botswana will play two more matches that are left in fulfilling their schedule but the matches are just a formality.

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