Beaten, but not embarrassed

Gone are the days when we were the ‘whipping boys’ of African football. Gone are the days when we regularly conceded many goals. Gone are the days when we were taken lightly and a sure bet for a hammering. Nowadays, we are taken seriously and worthy competition for any opponent.

We are no longer a walk in the park for many sides, who used to hammer us. Just last week we were knocked out of the Russia2018 World Cup qualifiers. We put up a spirited performance against the more fancied Mali who beat us by a narrow margin over two legs.  We won home, and we lost away. We should have won by more at home, and we shouldn’t have lost in Mali.

This is yet another point where we need to take a step back and reflect on progress, what we have been doing right, what we have not been doing right and where we can improve and how. I would think there are regular check points on progress and this is the time to do a post mortem of the Russia2018 qualifiers as well as the other past immediate tournaments.  

When he was appointed, one of Butler’s assignments was to atleast get into the group stages of major tournament’s qualifiers, with the ultimate being qualification for AFCON2017 finals. We are still on track for that, and I’m still hopeful that with a bit of luck, we will make it. The COSAFA Cup did not go according to plan and we were booted out early. That is one competition that is high on Butler’s priority lists and all didn’t go according to plan. Although we botched the COSAFA Cup and World Cup qualifiers, we are still in the running for AFCON2017 qualification. On the whole, there is great progress, both on and off the field. Butler is slowly but surely winning over some sceptics.

Reflecting on the COSAFA Cup, we sent a young team that was mostly developmental. We were unlucky to be booted out. For me, there were more positives than negatives as the tournament gave exposure to some of the players who are currently excelling in the senior team. For most players, it was their introduction to international football. We recently beat the less fancied Eritrea before being unluckily humbled by Mali.

I must say, Peter James Butler seems to be onto something. The teamwork, the energy levels, the fighting spirit and the camaraderie displayed by the whole team has been a major notable accomplishment. The players fight for each other and celebrate each and every goal, together with passion. This says a lot about the spirit in the team. That is key if we are to move forward. It looks like Butler has brought the players closer together, hence the closeness.

Personally I had my reservations about some of the players he persisted with. I felt some were not ready for international football. I have been made to eat humble pie. With the guidance of Butler, the likes of Tapioa Gadibolae, Lebogang Ditsile, Tebogo Sosome, Omaatla Kebatho, Mosha Gaolalolwe, amongst others, have grown in leaps and bounds.  They have age on their side and they will develop even further. The coach believes in them and they are repaying him. The players are happy and they want to win for him, and that is usually a good omen.

Where we are, I would give Butler the benefit of the doubt. He just needs us to continue supporting him. Obviously we won’t agree on selections all the time, but we can only support and back those he picks. One thing I should also commend him for is that he seems to have eased up on his cheap shots at the media and supporters. Now that is a great decision to have made. He needs to keep his eyes on the ball, and ignore all the side issues that might distract him.

We are out of the World Cup qualifiers, but we were not embarrassed and we move on. 

Editor's Comment
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