Following a historic victory against Banyana Banyana on Tuesday night, Mares still face a difficult path to navigate to reach the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In a game played at the Orlando Stadium on Tuesday evening, the team beat its perennial tormenters, Banyana Banyana 3-2 in a penalty shootout, after a goalless draw. The Mares are through to the third round of the qualifiers where they face Zambia.
Botswana and South Africa failed to find the back of the after three and half hours of football played over the two legs. The Mares are among the eight teams remaining in the qualifiers including, 2012 Olympic Games finalists Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, DR Congo, Kenya and reigning African champions, Nigeria. The outfit reached the stage as the lowest placed side in the FIFA rankings as they on the 152nd spot of 158 countries.
Despite being underdogs, team's head coach, Gaolethoo 'Ronaldo' Nkutlwisang remains confident of achieving the Olympic Games dream, although she acknowledges it won't be easy. "For us it is a step ahead, it shows that we are going forward. We are just taking one game at a time. If you look at the teams that remain we have played some of them before and done very well. It will come down to proper planning and preparations, we will sit down with the management and map the way forward," Nkutlwisang
She said the win against Banyana will add an extra ounce of confident to the team but advised they will remain level headed. "It is good thing we eliminated South Africa. This is a team that has been a stumbling block to us in every competition. The mood and energy is high in the camph at the moment and it is good thing. Our win came from the commitment and belief we had in the team. If we can carry that into the next game, we will do even better. We will just take one game as it comes," she said.
Botswana and Zambia will face-off between September 30 and October 4. The winner of the two-legged tie will face either Kenya or Ghana in the next round. The two teams met last month at COSAFA Championship and played to draw before Zambia eliminated the Mares in the semi finals.
Africa has only been given one and half slots at the Olympic games but Nkutlwisang has welcomed the tough competition. "It is a bit hard for the teams but it is for us as the coaches do our best. We have to strive best under these conditions."