It has been years since Botswana football men’s senior national team, the Zebras made Batswana stand up and take notice.
Gone are the days when the national team was described as the whipping boys of African football even as supporters took pride in following their team wherever it went across the continent.
Whence they were serenaded with song and dance, the Zebras are now the butt of jokes among their own followers. All that is left are the memories of the days of Jelusic Vesselin and the highs of Stanley Tshosane’s reign.
“This buoyant home support culminated in the Zebras qualifying for AFCON in 2012. After 2012 the support began to dwindle,” local football commentator Jimmy George says.
Despite the team being different in each era, supporters could not distinguish that but rather turned a blind eye to that and expected same not so good results all the time.
So much so that when a youthful team was selected to compete at the 2022 COSAFA cup, not an eyebrow was raised.
Batswana were not shy to make it known on the Botswana Football Association (BFA) Facebook page that they did not expect any positives when the team was announced.
With no pressure and only their pride to play for the country, the youthful Zebras excelled. In the group stages, the local boys won all their games. They beat Seychelles, Comoros and Angola by a single goal each without conceding to progress to the quarterfinals where they lost to Zambia in penalty shootouts.
In the journey to the quarterfinals, individual awards were also won. Lebogang Ditsele twice won the man of the match award, while his youthful teammate Gape Thibedi also won it once.Stanley
On the back of the recent performance however, the Zebras have surely gained back a few supporters. George believes given the mammoth task of reviving the nation’s faith coach Mogomotsi Mpote and his charges faced, there is a lot to be proud of.
“For the country, this means One step to winning form, a giant leap for local talent, that has been largely neglected at the expense of half-baked foreign coaches,” George opines.
He says the performances at the COSAFA cup should inspire the national team. “The boys should use the confidence as a spring board to launch a spirited performance in the AFCON qualifiers.” George says that this sudden change of fortunes for the team should have surely boosted their self belief and confidence. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and they have placed themselves beautifully for greatness,” he says.