Zebras fan will remain genuinely sanguine after a tough 2021 Africa Cup of Nations draw last week. The 2012 spirit must prevail, albeit under different circumstances, observes Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE
From the first African country in alphabetic order, Algeria to the last two, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Zebras face a tall order.
Prospects of progressing to the finals for only the second time in the country’s history look incredibly slim from the onset.
But all hope, cannot and should not be lost even before a try. Shoulders to the wheel, and all hands on deck approach are needed, as the Zebras look to secure a second appearance after their first in 2012.
It will be time to draw a lot from the 2012 qualification, which had appeared a lost cause well before the first whistle was blown in Tunis in June 2010.
A local coach, Stanley Tshosane was behind the wheel, driving the country’s quest to find new space amongst the continent’s elite.
He drove a successful campaign, against all odds, after being drawn against North African giants, Tunisia, Togo and Chad.
Togo and Tunisia were fresh from the 2006 World Cup qualification, and were safe bets to progress to the finals pitted against what were considered lightweights, Zebras and Chad.
But after the Zebras 1-0 win over Tunisia away from home, the continent stood-up and took notice, although it was largely dismissed as a fluke win.Further home victories over Chad and Togo cemented the Zebras’ growing threat, and put them firmly on course for qualification for the finals.
Away in the humidity of N’djamena on March 25, 2011, the Zebras announced their graduation from boys to men.
They broke a long-standing duck to qualify for their first ever finals with a 1-0 victory of Chad. That a son of the soil, Tshosane, had been instrumental was the icing on what had been a painstakingly slow baking cake.
Botswana has had tough draws since 2012, facing the likes of Burkina Faso and Mali, but that pales into insignificance compared to the gargantuan task, which CAF dropped at the Zebras’ doorstep last week. Botswana will want to disturb the usual cluster, which has congregated at African football’s top table, but that will be no mean feat.
The Zebras face reigning champions, Algeria, a compact side that has stars littered across the world. Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City is currently the team’s most famous son, and Botswana fans will be eager to watch him strut his stuff, but wish against a devastating impact against their beloved Zebras.
There is another familiar foe after the draw, the Copper Bullets (Chipolopolo) of Zambia. While the physically imposing Zambians have been on an alarming decline since their shock victory at the 2012 finals, they can still pull the trigger.
Time and again, they have proved to be a tough nut to crack, and the Zebras will be eager to dodge the bullet at home and away if they are to progress from the group.
Zambia recently prevented Botswana from bagging a first COSAFA Cup trophy, with a 1-0 defeat in the final in South Africa.
The two met last weekend in Francistown, in a match that ended in a 0-0 stalemate, and the frequent meetings will continue with the reverse fixture in Zambia on Saturday, before the two AFCON ties later this year and in 2020.
It gets tough as Botswana will face Zimbabwe, last on the alphabet, but not necessarily so in football terms. Zimbabwe were favoured to do well at last month’s AFCON finals in Egypt, but folded badly despite having a balanced squad.
The Zebras know Zimbabwe very well as the two have frequently met, particularly in friendly matches.
Zimbabwe has an edge in head-to-head meetings, but the Zebras should reverse the trend if a trip to Cameroon in 2021 is to bear fruit.
Now the Zebras have to summon their all, including the spirit of 2012, if they are to pull what could prove to be a stubborn rabbit out of the hat. They did pull it in 2012, and now, they have to replicate that effort to book a plane to Cameroon in 2021.
Circumstances would be different, though. The Botswana Football Association has pressed ahead with the appointment of an expatriate coach, meaning there will be no repeat of a local mentor’s heroics. Some players like Kabelo Seakanyeng and Mpho Kgaswane are now playing in Europe, although in small leagues. The majority of Tshosane’s players were in South Africa and in the local league.
Fans will argue, the guile and grit of 2012 is missing from the current bunch, while Tshosane’s charges had the never-say-die attitude.
The only common denominator with the 2012 campaign is the usual irritant, late payment of allowances.