National coach Stanley Tshosane has been skating on thin ice since the 2012 AFCON finals. But it is widely known that he would not have walked even if the 2014 World Cup campaign had ended in disaster. There is a huge payout package over his head and his masters at the Botswana Football Association (BFA) have been reluctant to show him the door. The pressure on Tshosane has been incessant; actually the noise levels about his departure were bound to rise.
The Zebras have endured a torrid two years, trying albeit without luck, to secure what was increasingly becoming an elusive win in competitive matches. The plot to salvage a severely dented pride was going awry until the return of a player nicknamed 'Umthakathi' - a Zulu word for wizard. It is Dirang Moloi's wizardry that has flummoxed many opposition players in the last two World Cup qualifiers and delivered Tshosane's kiss of life. The slim midfield magician ensured the Zebras restored respectability with a draw against Egypt before going down fighting to Ethiopia in a World Cup fixture. Despite, falling to Ethiopia, the Zebras showed intent to attack, abandoning their defensive play.It gave a glimpse of what the Zebras could offer offensively with Moloi at the heart of most decisive moves.He picked his teammates with consummate ease, occasionally conjuring that delightful chip, which would send the Lobatse Stadium crowd into delirium. A player who can inspire and disappoint in equal measure, Moloi has been playing truant, and at one stage, fans urged Tshosane to ignore him.
But Tshosane, increasingly looking out of sorts, knew that wherever Moloi was hiding, he had with him the golden egg.He is the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg. It was surprising, though expected that Tshosane would persist with calling up Moloi. He finally got his wish after months of trying. Whatever the two discussed seems to galvanise Moloi. The gangly midfielder has been at the heart of nearly all the moves since his return three games ago.His growing reputation was further enhanced against Central Africa Republic (CAR) last weekend when he put on a devastating performance to inspire a dramatic second-half comeback. The Zebras were trailing 1-2 early in the second half, but stormed back to romp home 3-2.
The return of Moloi, who had a stint in South Africa, has freed Mogakolodi 'Tsotso' Ngele, another of the country's bright prospects. Ngele has pushed even further forward with the full knowledge that behind him is the virtuoso Moloi.The former Vasco Da Gama creative linkman has churned countless scoring opportunities for the Zebras, a stark contrast to their mundane defensive displays. Now Tshosane knows that he owes his revived campaign, to some extent to the Ethiopian football federation, but the large chunk of thanks should go to 'Umthakathi'.
Even if Zebras were to get three points from Ethiopia but lose to CAR, they will be out of the reckoning.Moloi's devastating 90-minute display against CAR ensured a victory, which keeps the Zebras in the hunt.Tshosane has acknowledged Moloi's massive influence and can experiment with possession football.After all, his new project seems to be coming together perfectly with some of the country's brightest prospects in the national side. Galabgwe Moyana possesses the arrogance needed in a skilful winger, Ngele has been immense down the middle, while Tebogo Sembowa continues to question Tshosane's wisdom to always start him on the bench, with crucial goals.
On the other side, as the campaign recovers from the 'kiss of life' Tshosane has to instill confidence in young Kabelo Dambe who on successive occasions has failed to prevent easy goals. In the Ethiopia game, he was at fault for the second goal when the pencil-slim Said Salahdin looked up and saw Dambe off his line to curl the ball beyond the keeper and kill the contest. Against CAR, Dambe went out for a ball, which he failed to gather cleanly, instead he spilled and the resultant shot flew past him into the back of the net.
On the wings, Phenyo Mongala is still operating in fits-and-starts, while Joel Mogorosi has never recovered since the night he went on stage to win R200,000 after being voted the Telkom Player of the Tournament.But Tshosane can fine-tune these areas as he has ample time before the next World Cup qualifier, on September 7, against a pervious Bafana Bafana side. While the Beyene saga is sure to cause consternation among the Ethiopians, it has brought unbridled joy to the Zebras fans, who know their side has been thrown another lifeline.