When the Zebras departed for Nelson Mandela Bay almost two weeks back, interim coach, Letang Kgengwenyane declared his unhidden ambition to bring the COSAFA Cup home. But as the team touched down at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport yesterday, there was no trophy on board, writes Mmegi Sport Staffer, MQONDISI DUBE
‘It is coming home’ has become popular each time England plays in a major tournament. It was particularly popular with local fans at the 2018 World Cup, where England’s campaign ended in tears. It gained momentum at the just-ended Euro 2020 Championship, which also ended in agony for the ‘Three Lions’.
‘It is coming home’ is a line from a 1996 song ‘Three Lions’ released ahead of the Euro 96 Championship. While the song went to number one on the charts in the UK, it was not so for the team nicknamed the ‘Three Lions’ as the chase for the Holy Grail has proved elusive. Optimism was high at this year’s European Championship and the English fans were convinced the trophy ‘was coming home’.
But the home proved to be Rome as the Italians shattered the English hopes with a penalty shoot-out victory on Sunday in a final, which attracted unprecedented interest.
England has been without a major trophy since their 1966 World Cup triumph. It is now 55 years the Three Lions have been searching for glory.
The same applies to their compatriots in the wild, the Zebras who are without a trophy since independence, 55 years ago. While England won a trophy, Botswana is without a major cup, but the wait stretches over the same number of years, 55. To a lesser extent, the ‘It’s coming home’ slogan, which became the dominant phrase throughout the Euro Championship, has been domesticated.
Zebras caretaker coach, Kgengwenyane told the media before departure for the COSAFA Cup tournament that the aim was to bring the trophy home. It was not a far-fetched target as the Zebras have had a close brush with the regional trophy, narrowly missing out after reaching the final in 2016 and 2019. “We want to improve on the last performance,” he told journalists at the final press briefing at Lekidi Centre before the team jetted off.
Improving on the previous performance meant bringing the trophy home as the last campaign the Zebras had finished second after falling 1-0 to Zambia.
The operation to bring the trophy home began with a 1-0 defeat to a makeshift Bafana Bafana on the opening day of the tournament last week Tuesday.
This did not deflate the Zebras as they still had enough matches to keep the ‘Operation Bring It Home’ alive. Up next was Likuena of Lesotho, and the Zebras have developed a habit of turning the tiny kingdom into a punching bag. And they did so in ruthless fashion, as Zebras’ bright spark and the team’s top goalscorer at the tournament, Tumisang Orebonye, helped himself to a hat-trick as Botswana thumped Lesotho 4-0.
The ‘It’s coming home’ chorus became audible, although the operation had not sufficiently won over most Zebras fans. But the victory over Lesotho shone fresh hope, that after all, the trophy could be coming home.
But there was a reality check on Tuesday when hoodoo side, Zambia left ‘Operation Bring It Home’ hanging threadbare. Botswana has always struggled against Zambia, failing to dodge the Copper Bullets (Chipolopolo) on four other previous occasions at the COSAFA Cup. The Tuesday defeat meant the Zebras needed a win against Eswatini on Wednesday in order to progress to the semi-finals. But the football gods took sides and chose Eswatini who booked a maiden place in the semi-finals of the regional competition after the two teams were deadlocked at 1-1.
It was the first time that Eswatini had managed a point against the Zebras after all their efforts had ended in defeat.
While it was ecstasy for Eswatini, it meant the Zebras boarded the next plane home, but without the trophy, as the operation ended in familiar despair.
As the Zebras lick their 55-year-old wounds, not too far away lie the Three Lions, also smarting from similar pain that has stretched over five decades.