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AFCON 2021: Will the Zebras gallop again?

Publishing Date : 29 July, 2019

Author : MOSIMANEGAPE TSHOSWANE

For far too long, Botswana has become more of a spectator in the African Cup of Nations qualifying race. The future of this footballing nation mirrors a tomorrow that may never come. Ever since the remarkable and buccaneering record set during the wonderful reign of coach Stanley Tshosane, The Zebras has been nothing but dull.


Four AFCON finals passed without hearing anything from this country. Other than hiring and sacking coaches, Zebras has struggled to find its way out of mediocre zone. Just a year after returning from their maiden AFCON 2012, The Zebras drew the Eagles of Mali and entered immediately into a cul de sac. The Zebras were hammered 7-1 aggregate in a preliminary stage as 2012 accolades began to fall apart.


That feeble performance was never tamed but spread dangerously into the 2015 qualifying campaign. The team, under the stewardship of Peter Butler, managed only a point after six outings. While it is harsh to condemn the Butler assembled side, it is also apposite to accept that the Zebras was drawn in a rather difficult group that consisted African heavy weights from West and North. There was Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia. Between 2015 and 2017 qualifiers, the pattern never changed. The Zebras struggled to break psychological barrier, playing 6 games and scoring only once.


But as the Zebras begin to prepare for fifth AFCON finals since 2012, having drawn tougher opponents that includes African champions Algeria and perennial campaigners Zimbabwe and Zambia, the contrast with these nation’ squad buoyancy could not be starker.
For Algeria, the 2019 edition has been a wonderful, hard-earned moment of sporting grace for a nation once riddled by political instability. They turned the corner on the back yard of their neighbors, Egypt to win their second cup in 20 years. Therefore, The Zebras could be haunted by their failure to tame the North African giants as well as their own neighbors in Zambia and Zimbabwe.


Zambia, like the Zebras, is in the rebuilding process, but they have never endured a torrid time whenever they took a Botswana assignment.  According to the history of the African football, the two nations have met 17 times, with Zambia winning 1o games. 5 games were played to a draw and Botswana only won twice.  There have been glimpses of excellence in a team that has looked energized, and won the 2012  AFCON finals when nobody expected it. No doubt that Zambia’s revolutionary results are coming to play after winning the COSAFA cup edition at the mercy of the Zebras.


As for Zimbabwe, time is evolving and many had hope that, as one of the most successful sides in Southern African football, the Warriors would now be at the summit of the region, but it seems to them that even in football, there is no easy way to the top. They have played in two consecutive AFCON finals but were embarrassingly knocked out of group stages. All the while, Zebras has to understand that it will take greater leap of faith to down the Zimbabweans who remains the only country to have handed them an embarrassing defeat of 7-0 in 1990.


Botswana is expected to take some pride from Cape Verde of 2010 and Madagascar of 209; they can’t just leave with crossed arms, and so followers think this is going to be a very one-on-one match. Quite a number of South African sides are seen to be organized in doing their things, no wonder their success, both in the region and the continent is merited. And Botswana as an upcoming footballing nation is not far off the mark.


However, in reality, these two South African countries have never proved to be dangerous opponents whenever they faced The Zebras.  Of late, they have been busy luring some of their naturalized players in Europe to come and play for the country of their origin to re awaken their dominance.


However, stories of a disjointed  association and league do point rather wearily to the basic obstacle on Botswana’s own path that for so many years of separation of ownership and club control, with many investors coming to the game and now the Premier League edging Botswana national team’s concerns to the fringes.


They intend on bringing psychology and massive training to the game, but it also seems that, as much as they want to copy the style of other countries, basic skill is still a needed requirement. To date, Zebras loss is based around a diligent, muscular defence and a fast-breaking, penetrative attack by opponents. Coaches from these South African sides now know a 2021 failure will not be accepted when the campaign begins in October. It is safe to forget about Algeria, but for Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, patience is fast running thin.

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