On Saturday, the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship winner will be crowned. A year ago, it was Mares readying to play in their first ever-final but this year the teams’ boots have already caught a bit of dust following an early exit.
They did so in 2019 when they reached the last four at the COSAFA Championship but failed to progress to the final. The team went to lose the third-place playoff match and settled for the fourth spot. In the same year, Gaolethoo ‘Ronaldo’ Nkutlwisang’s girls eliminated perennial tormenters, Banyana Banyana from the 2020 Olympic Games qualifiers. It was the team’s first ever victory over the southern neighbours. It was a chilling warning to the rest of Mares rivals heading into the 2019 spring. The Mares were now going up the slope, shedding the ‘weeping girls’ fur.
A year later, in 2020 Nkutlwisang's team reached its first COSAFA Championship final after eight unsuccessful attempts. Goals from Lone Gaofetoge and Refilwe Tholakele were enough to brush aside another regular irritant, Zambia in the semi-final. Despite losing the tournament 2-1 to Banyana Banyana, the team had earned its stripes, pocketing P250,000 as an incentive from the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development. Hopes touched new levels when the team departed Gaborone destined for Gqeberha, Eastern Cape, for the 2021 edition. The team had an increase in the foreign-based players and that coupled with the recent displays, the Mares were the dark horse. It all started with a 7-0 win over South Sudan last week, before losing 2-0 to Tanzania. In an all to play for a tie against Zimbabwe, the team failed to register a single shot on target, losing 2-0.
This year’s display was the worst in the last three years. Signs had shown before the dismal performances. COVID-19 wrecked the team’s camp as Nkutlwisang stayed behind after testing positive. Seasoned coach, Thaloba Nthaga was to be roped in, but could not make the trip due to work commitments. Goalkeeper coach, Thabo Motang took over the reins at the 11th hour. The team also missed striker, Thuto Ramafifi and keeper, Sedilame Bosija who have been an integral part of the setup for a long time. The tournament was the team’s first outing in nearly a year of inactivity. The Mares have since returned home to kick start preparations for the Africa Women Cup of Nations first round of qualifiers.
The team takes on Angola on October 22, 2021 away and the return leg will be played a week later. The Mares are hoping to reach the continental showpiece, following a four-team increase from the last tournament to 12. The team will be looking to shift the gear to avoid plunging further down the slope.