Zebras pay the penalty

Zebras player Lebogang Ditsile and Samba Sow of Mali caught in action during the 2018 world Cup qualifier game. PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
Zebras player Lebogang Ditsile and Samba Sow of Mali caught in action during the 2018 world Cup qualifier game. PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG

The Zebras will look back to a late, critical referee’s call in the first leg against Mali which saw their strong penalty appeals turned away, as the match defining moment after they bombed out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers away to Mali on Tuesday night.

The team was dealt a further blow when they conceded a dubious penalty inside the opening 10 minutes in Bamako.

Coach Peter Butler bemoans the match defining moments after his charges went down 2-0 for an overall 3-2 aggregate loss.

“I am gutted for the fans and players. The tie hinged on two penalty decisions, the one in Francistown where Skhebo (Seakanyeng) was hacked down when clean through and no penalty was given. Last night (Tuesday) when on 10 minutes, the Mali player stumbles, dives and cons the referee. It was never a penalty and a cruel decision, but that’s football,” Butler said from Mali yesterday.

He admitted his charges were lethargic in the first half before upping the tempo in the second half, which saw one effort graze the crossbar.

“We huffed and puffed in the first half. That early penalty knocked us but in the second half, the players showed tremendous character and played some wonderful football, hitting the bar and creating numerous chances. We were without doubt the better football team second half and fought until the end. We have played a strong Mali twice and for 75 percent of those two games, we were the better team,” Butler said.

He said football is a cruel sport adding they have to move on and pick vital lessons from the close loss.

“The players did the country proud and deserve credit. We are moving in the right direction.”

The Zebras faced an uphill task the moment they conceded the early penalty before a second goal put the tie beyond doubt midway through the first half.

Butler decided to go with a 3-5-2 formation after using it successfully in the last three home games.

The Zebras will now channel their efforts towards qualifying for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations where they find themselves three points behind leaders, Uganda and level on three points with Burkina Faso while Comoros bring the rear. Zebras’ next assignment is next year March where they face Comoros before travelling to Namibia for the COSAFA Senior Challenge.

The team arrives back from Mali today.

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