Zebras were left to rue their costly mistakes in matches against South Africa and Zambia, which contributed immensely to their group stage exit at the ongoing COSAFA Cup in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
The Zebras were left with no option but to win their last group match against Eswatini on Wednesday afternoon, failure to which they would make their quick return to Botswana. As expected, Eswatini were not going to allow themselves to be bullied, especially that they only needed a draw to advance to the semi-finals. They made it even more difficult for the Zebras when they scored first in the first half and despite Thatayaone Kgamanyane’s equaliser in the second half, it was not enough for Zebras.
Ahead of their departure to South Africa, interim coach, Letang Kgengwenyane was highly optimistic about Zebras’ chances of winning a first major silverware. He was well aware that most of the players had not performed competitive matches for over a year but said the training camp had helped his charges reach the required level of fitness. He called up the country’s best players including exports, Thatayaone Kgamanyane, Mothusi Cooper, Tumisang Orebonye and Kabelo Seakanyeng. Even before they could play the first match, Zebras were dealt a blow when Cooper was reported to have tested positive for COVID-19. The issues surrounding his COVID-19 results caused a lot of confusion when other negative results appeared on social media. The Botswana Football Association (BFA) then said the player who was expected to join the team later would no longer be part of this year’s COSAFA squad. “Cooper has asked not to be part of the team for this year’s squad,” BFA spokesperson, Tumo Mpatane said after the Zambia match.
Against South Africa, Zebras were able to make their presence felt and were unlucky not to come out of the match with a point. A goalkeeping error from Ezekiel Morake separated the two sides. Morake made a hash of what should have been an easy save, gifting substitute, Kagiso Malinga a goal. Zebras were boosted by the arrival of Orebonye against Lesotho and the towering striker netted three goals before Kgamanyane scored the fourth. “We gave him (Orebonye) rest and then took him for a session to deal with jet lag. We gave him instruction to be simple in the game, that is why he was not holding onto the ball too much. He was just facilitating our attack,” the Zebras interim coach said after the 4-0 win over Lesotho.
Zebras, however, missed the services of Seakanyeng who was said to have travelled to Botswana to sort out his passport. The speedy winger went on to miss the matches against Zambia and Swaziland. The third match against Zambia also saw Zebras concede silly goals and went on to lose 2-1. Morake was once again partially to blame for the loss after failing to deal with Justin Shonga’s freekick. Zambia were initially not drawn in the Zebras group but were included after several teams pulled out of the tournament at the last minute. The loss to Zambia set up a mountain to climb for Zebras against Eswatini in the last match of the group. Following his exploits against Lesotho, Orebonye was closely monitored against both Zambia and Eswatini. The 1-1 draw was not enough for Kgengwenyane’s charges to advance to the semi-finals. Zebras’ best performance in the competition was when they reached the final two years ago and in 2016. This year they scored six goals and conceded four, with Kgamanyane and Orebonye each netting three times. Despite the disappointing early exit, few individual players have left a mark at the regional competition. Gaborone United striker, Kgamanyane’s gifted left foot has left an impressive mark not only to the viewers but also commentators. He dished out some great performances from the first match, linking the midfield and the striking force with his pace and skill.
Kgamanyane was also among the best performers at the 2019 COSAFA Cup where he attracted interest from several South African sides. Together with Seakanyeng, they joined Chippa United but were later released under controversial circumstances. Mothusi Johnson who has made the left back position his own, has also done well together with midfielder, Kutlwelo Mpolokang.