Sunday, September 20, 2020

Zebras’ striking force too mediocre

The goalless draw by Botswana’s national soccer team, the Zebras, against a Brazil select side on Tuesday left coach, Colywn Rowe, a frustrated man. Just like in the previous game against Zimbabwe, which the Zebras also lost by a solitary goal, the team created many chances but could not convert them. What is even surprising is that the very same strikers who huff and puff in Zebras’ colours score almost every week in the Premier league.

Rowe’s frustrations can be evidenced by the fact that he does not have a reliable partnership upfront. He has tried many partners together and none seem to be working. Rowe told Sunday Standard that partnerships do not matter and players have to score.

“It does not matter which striker plays with whom and if chances are there they have to score. The game we lost against Brazil is similar to the Zimbabwean one because we created many chances but goals did not come. Definitely, we cannot continue like this,” he said.
Even though Rowe does not count much on partnerships, before he took the fort, Diphetogo Selolwane’s combination with Tshephiso Molwantwa was one of the best in the African continent. Even though the going was tough in most cases, during Molwantwa and Selolwane’s time, the Zebras could even score as many as three goals in away games. Since Molwantwa left, Selolwane seems not to have a good understanding with the current crop like Moemedi Moatlhaping, Jerome Ramatlhakwane, Pontsho Moloi and Mpho Mabogo.

The duo made Botswana’s presence felt in the international arena and even scored against some of the tougher African opponents. What surprised many people is their height. They are both short but they managed to elude some of the tallest defenders with ease. Molwantwa especially had an aerial strength and scored some of his goals from his headers. It was Molwantwa’s header in 2003 that helped Botswana to qualify for the first time for the Semi-finals of the now defunct COSAFA Castle Cup against Namibia. Botswana might be having it easy against Namibia these years but then Namibia had an edge. Some of the memorable matches for the two strikers were against Kenya and Malawi for the double qualifications for both the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

Against Kenya in Gaborone, Botswana came from a goal down to score two goals courtesy of Selolwane’s diving header and Molwantwa. Against Malawi both strikers were also on target and it was a big achievement because the game was away and Botswana managed to score three goals to Malawi’s one. Nowadays, the Zebras seem to be allergic to that. On the reason why there is a goal drought in the national team while there is plenty in the Premier League, Rowe said the local league might be lagging behind somewhere.

“Let’s face it, we created a lot of chances against Brazil and Zimbabwe, but ended up losing. Even before those games we had numerous chances against several countries and goals were not coming. That tells you that somewhere something is wrong. We are good at the back and even in the midfield and we have to do something with the striking department,” he said.

Rowe still harbours hope of reaching the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola for the first time in history. He told Sunday Standard that the Zebras still stand a chance and expressed optimism that by the time the qualifiers start, the team would be ready. The Zebras are scheduled to play Madagascar end of next month but the game still hangs in the balance. Madagascar has since been suspended by FIFA following the country’s government interference in sports matters. Other teams that are in the same group with Botswana are Ivory Coast and Mozambique.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

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