Good morning Equatorial Guinea and Gabon

Staff Writer
Though questions still remain over the Zebras' technical and tactical ability, one thing is certain: It will need a major reversal of fortunes in Group K to deny the Zebras a first-ever appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations whose next edition in 2012 will be co-hosted by West African neighbours, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

When the draw for the qualifiers was conducted in Lubumbashi, DRC, the home of the continent's club champions, TP Mazembe on February 20, 2010, there was little reason for Botswana to celebrate.

Out of the hat first in Group K were overwhelming favourites, Tunisia, the top seeds. Then there was Malawi, a nation fresh from participating in the 2010 AFCON edition. Minnows Chad was in the group but this was little consolation going by what happened when Botswana found itself grouped with another unheralded West African lightweight, Mauritania. Before the qualifiers began, CAF complicated the situation in Group K when it belatedly threw in veteran campaigners; Togo, one of Africa's representatives in the 2006 World Cup.

The Zebras' cause was not helped by the fact that their first match in the qualifiers was an away trip to African powerhouse Tunisia. In the Zebras' last visit to Tunis, they were given a thorough mauling by the Carthage Eagles who then came to Gaborone and handed out another harsh soccer lesson. Hence, when Stan Tshosane departed with his squad to Tunisia, very few took notice and there was nothing suggesting that a shock was on the horizon.

But against the odds, the Zebras pulled a stunning 1-0 win against Tunisia in the opener, which set the tone for the remainder of the qualifiers.

The 1-0 score line or one goal margin wins have become the Zebras' trademark.

Botswana followed up the Tunisia victory with a 1-0 win over Chad a week later. A trip to Malawi yielded one goal and a point after the hosts equalised late in the second half.

The Zebras returned to what is fast becoming a cauldron for visiting teams, the UB Stadium for an encounter against Togo. In the match, Tshosane's charges managed to score more than one goal for the first time in the qualifiers. Joel Mogorosi and regular scorer, Jerome Ramatlhakwana were on target in a 2-1 victory, which meant the Zebras stuck to their one goal-winning margin.

On Wednesday, against Tunisia, the boys did not offer anything new regarding the score line as a familiar 1-0 win was recorded.

In all the games in the qualifiers, the Zebras have become predictable. They do not play fancy football, they do not score many goals but they win. On Wednesday, they characteristically laboured for long periods against Tunisia, survived several scares and produced the proverbial sucker punch.

Tshosane who is probably staring his critics in the face and shouting 'who's the man?'. But he still has loads of work to do.

The team's evident weaknesses may be badly exposed in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon and need to be corrected in the remaining three games.

The Zebras' play is hardly fluid. It is not pretty to the eye but crucially the team grinds results. Against Tunisia, Tshosane almost let it slip when he pulled out the influential Diphetogo Selolwane at a time the visitors were piling the pressure. His replacements, Moemedi 'Jomo' Moatlhaping and Dirang Moloi hardly had any influence in the game.

Instead they were forced to join in the defending as Tunisia sought parity. Selolwane is a battle-hardened veteran who reads the game well and matched the Tunisians superbly. His removal left a gapping hole in the midfield and if Tshosane wanted to fortify the department, grafter, Patrick Motsepe, could have been a better option.

But as he often does, Tshosane has won matches even on days when supporters'

hearts are in their mouths throughout the 90 minutes.

In as much as there were opportunities for the Zebras to knock-out the Carthage Eagles on Wednesday, there were many heart-stopping moments for local fans.

There were long periods when the crowd became restless, only to wake up with a half-hearted Mexican wave. Events on the pitch hardly allowed for room to focus elsewhere. However, Tshosane can walk from the match - and the campaign thus far-with some valuable lessons.

There were some positives from the Tunisia game. Mogogi Gabonamong might have received some nasty blows from Selolwane in a report carried in a South African soccer publication. But there was no evidence of such scars when the Cape Town Santos' workaholic took to the pitch on Wednesday.

Drafted into central defence in the absence of Ndiyapo Letsholathebe, Gabonamong was outstanding in his comeback match. 'Gino' showed why he has represented the country at all levels with a commanding display at the back. In midfield, Selolwane shone with Boitumelo Mafoko shown scant respect to the much-fancied Tunisians.

Mafoko toiled the whole afternoon, breaking down the Tunisians' attacks and got help from gangly Gaborone United midfielder, Ofentse Nato. On the wings, Township Rollers' skipper, Joel Mogorosi was impressive. He did not hesitate to take on the Tunisian rearguard and dropped back to assist in defence when the situation demanded. Ramatlhakwana proved why he is among the leading marksmen in the qualifiers with a well-taken goal.

The gunslinger was on hand to sweep in a rebound from a Selolwane shot to net what proved to be the winner right at the end of the first half.

Goalkeeper Modiri Marumo was outstanding, thwarting the visitors on several occasions.

These were positives, which Tshosane will take from the game, but there were alarming negatives.

The left side was paralysed, as Phenyo Mongala and Mosimanegape Ramohibidu did not operate in tandem.

Ramohibidu was a bundle of nerves in the first half, committing elementary mistakes. He, however, redeemed himself in the second period. Mongala started off promisingly but looked jaded in the second half, probably as a direct result of his lack of game time at his club, Orlando Pirates.

Tshosane should list his tactics under negatives when he introspects. He gets credit for the starting 11 although he should move swiftly to address problems on the left. He should be disappointed with his substitution, which almost allowed the Tunisians back into the game.

Probably there was an unlikely ally in Wednesday's game; the width of the UB Stadium pitch.

With the Tunisians used to wide pitches both at home and abroad where they play their club football, it worked for the hosts to confine the visitors in a smaller pitch. In most instances, their balls rolled out of play as they tried to launch attacks.

Tshosane, a devout Christian, can thank the Lord that there is still ample time between now and the day the Zebras head to West Africa for their first appearance in the AFCON finals.

He still has time to fine-tune the shortcomings and crucially, the fans can now afford to be patient. After all, he is the man who has led the Zebras to where they have never been before. Successive coaches, some who left the Botswana Football Association (BFA)'s coffers with huge dents failed to achieve what Tshosane has done.

As the saying goes, "Give a man half a chance and he will take it".


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