The Zebras enter a difficult and dangerous terrain of Bamako, Mali this weekend looking for nothing else but victory. The atmosphere in Bamako is war tainted; the country has become unstable emanating from an army coup d’etat. As to how easy it will be for the Zebras and crew to settle and excel within this atmosphere, it remains to be seen. Even with war and instability aside, it was still going to be a tall order to aim for victory and secure it against the highly fancied Mali.
They rank high; they enjoy home advantage and they know our style of play, having beaten us in the January Africa Cup of Nations finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. These factors combined make for a very difficult and hostile environment under which the Zebras are expected to play. However, it is every local’s hope that despite the daunting assignment ahead, some measure of respectability will not be lost. The Zebras will be gallant enough to emerge with their pride intact. They have after all faced other daunting challenges. Under the same coach – Stanley Tshosane – and with a greater percentage of the players he has, the team has gone to Tunisia and against expectations returned with victory.
When some would have dismissed that as a fluke, they repeated the victory here at home. Against Mali during the AFCON final, it was clear that we belonged to different worlds in terms of technique in the game, Mali being ahead of us. But even then the Zebras took the lead when Tsotso Ngele scored early in the game. It took a whole lot of effort for Mali to overcome the deficit and win 2-1 at the end. This shows that with proper preparation, the Zebras have what it takes to frustrate Mali in its den and plan to finish the job here at home. There is a lot at stake in this game.
The winner automatically qualifies for the 2013 AFCON final, which is being hosted by South Africa. For us, making the second consecutive final will be phenomenal in ensuring that football continues to create a case for more resources to be offered for sustained development. Furthermore, it will be another step in the direction of providing a stage for local players to sell their abilities to the international soccer market, mainly in Europe and other areas where Botswana players are still to play. The preparations preceding this clash have left some not convinced about the abilities of the Zebras to beat Mali. There have been two draws against Tanzania (3-3) and Uganda (0-0) and a win against a Kenyan top local team. Whatever Tshosane has been trying out, he knows best. He has brought in a number of fresh recruits into the team. He could also be having a new game plan for Mali.
Under these circumstances, the refrain would be – the coach knows best. All we want at the end is a respectable result in Mali and that here at home, he finishes the job to set Zebras on another AFCON final. Having recalled Modiri Marumo from retirement signifies that he is going all out to limit damage in terms of goals conceded. He is choosing to go with the tried and tested. However, we look to every one given the national jersey on the day to rise to the occasion. Good luck Zebras!