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Historic Zebras moment fading into distant memory

MQONDISI DUBE
Tshosane remains the only coach to take the Zabras to the AFCON finals
In March 2011, in far flung N’Djamena, Chad, a handful but exuberant Zebras fans huddled in a pile of undiluted joy. The Zebras had climbed to the highest echelon in their long history, which had, until then, been littered with endless heartaches. But since that achievement, it has largely been lumps of disappointment, as the Zebras battle to reproduce the glorious moment, writes MQONDISI DUBE

‘Good morning Gabon’, was the Mmegi Sport headline as soon as the Zebras confirmed their graduation from boys to men in 2011. It had been a long and rough road, littered with unending heartbreaks, and which attracted constant ridicule and the unenviable nickname, The Whipping Boys of Africa.

Successive local and international coaches, had tried so hard to put more pace to the Zebras gallop, but despite taking the ‘Zebra’ to the river, they failed to make it drink.

It took a homegrown solution, in Stanley Tshosane, to crack the solution as he became the first, and thus far, the only coach to take the Zebras to the Africa Cup of Nations finals.

Underrated and hardly given any chance, Tshosane thrived through an ultra defensive method, which demanded more bodies behind the ball.

The tactic worked to perfection as his side was effective without the ball, a well thought method, which floored continental giants, Tunisia, home and away and set the tone for the historic moment.

Tshosane chose a pragmatic approach, and ignored calls for an all-out attack, arguing, the type of players at his disposal, best suited the defensive game.

Play was hardly fluid and not pretty to the eye, but critically, the team managed to grind results.

Tshosane flourished amid criticism, but the bubble was bound to burst after the sparkling run.

Three defeats at the AFCON finals triggered the Zebras’ downward spiral, which culminated in the dismissal of Tshosane in October 2013.

Englishman, Peter Butler was installed in February 2014, and quickly won some admirers, with some neat attacking football, a sharp departure from Tshosane’s approach.

He managed to win big matches against Mali and Burkina Faso, infused young blood into the team, and appeared to be

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heading in the right direction.

But failure to qualify for the 2015 AFCON edition was not taken kindly. Butler went agonisingly close to winning the regional COSAFA Cup, losing 3-2 to South Africa in 2016.

But as they say, you are as good as your last match and Butler was no longer at Lekidi Centre when the winter temperatures dipped unbearably in June 2017.

Like Tshosane and many other coaches before him, Butler had faced the perennial challenge of Botswana Football Association (BFA) administration lapses. At one stage, Butler’s side went for six months without any action, and friendly matches were hard to come by.

In came a man so revered in local football, former army major, David Bright, who was expected to command his troops amid the gathering storm clouds.

He managed to keep Angola, a perennial irritant, at harm’s length in the opening game of the COSAFA Cup early this and it appeared the Zebras mojo was back, when he stormed to the quarterfinals.

But a defeat to a severely weakened Bafana Bafana side, saw memories of the bitter past come back flooding.

From then it was a topsy-turvy journey, where the Zebras gallop would regularly hit turbulence.

A 3-0 defeat to Burkina Faso on October 13 confirmed the crisis, and despite salvaging a point in the reverse fixture four days later in Francistown, the mood remained sombre.

The latest 2-1 defeat away to Mauritania, who were writing their own piece of history by qualifying for the first time, has left a nation dejected, and searching for quick answers.

The 2012 qualification now appears a long time back, and Tshosane’s value and achievement is now appreciated more.



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