Should authorities at the Botswana Football Association (BFA) disentangle themselves from the legendary trap of being unreceptive to progression; and then undertake to tend the majority of players forming the team currently competing at the ongoing CAF Under 17 Championship, then Botswana is assured of great times to come in football.
The team - fondly called the Diamond Zebras in local circles - concludes work at the continental showpiece this Friday in Morocco against Gabon. This after the two sides suffered losses at the hands of Arabian opposition in their first two games. The Diamond Zebras lost 1-3 and 0-3 against Tunisia and Morocco respectively, while Gabon were downed 2-4 and 1-4 by the same teams in that order. Yet these depressing scorelines do not even begin to narrate the whole and truthful story about the quality of the national Under 17 team coached by Kagiso Kobedi.
In the young lads, Botswana has gems that have just been unearthed and only waiting to be polished for posterity. In the face of all the mentally draining stacks that befell them here at home ahead of the tournament; and even amidst the rubble of the ‘heavy’ defeats they suffered in foreign land, their shine still sparkled enough to keep the eye glued on them to the bitter end of their games. Yes Batswana are tired of the perennial losses that have become a trademark of their national soccer teams’ performances at international level, but with the Under 17 team that lost to Morocco and Tunisia this week, the sight of what appears at the proverbial end of the tunnel should be encouraging. Encouraging enough to inspire the BFA, perhaps even the Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC), to spring into Operation Nurture.
Their Tuesday night loss to the tournament hosts, in the fashion that it happened, was at best cruel. The 3-0 score-line still betrays the true picture of a match that was fought in equal gallantry until Botswana’s indecisiveness in the 19th minute resulted in a morale-boosting goal for Morocco. It was a goal that should have easily been avoided. In fact, all of the goals. The first goal was a result of a lack of commitment by Thato Kebue, who when he could have won a 50-50 ball going towards the touchline on the right flank, lazily allowed Morocco’s Sakhi to snatch it and cut back in to supply his mates in the box.
Indecisive marking allowed the ball to easily land on Bnou Marzouk, who duly punished Botswana with a low shot. Morocco’s 49th minute second goal was in fact a low point in the brilliant display of goalkeeper Keeagile Kgosipula who before then had confidently dealt with difficult strikes only to fumble on a tame shot taken from outside the box by Hamza Sakhi. Apart from these mistakes by the Diamond Zebras players, the tussle was evenly matched physically. A lack of mental strength and self-belief was however evident from the patches of hesitant application by some of the players.
The intermittent lack of cohesion and consistency in the team told of a potentially excellent side that was inadequately prepared compared to their opponents who almost all are products of top European clubs’ development programmes, including those of top clubs such as Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax Amsterdam and numerous French teams. In fact, apart from having the advantage of playing at home on Tuesday night, the Moroccan players are from professional setups, both within their country and in Europe, yet the Diamond Zebras’ quality of play defied all such odds.
They had no fear, and showed little respect for their opponents. When Allen Ndodole was brought in at the 60th minute for Kabelano Mooketsane, he made an immediate impact, and within six minutes of his introduction, he fashioned out a move that eventually saw Botswana put the ball into the net, although the goal was strangely ruled out for offside. The goal that resulted from a brilliant passing move by the Zebras players might have changed the complexion of the game. The local lads created several scoring chances of their own but failed consistently to score – until Marzouk’s 81st minute goal killed their spirits off. They can now look to consoling themselves with a win this Friday, and hope further to arrive home to an inspired and proactive BFA that should now be making plans of keeping the team together.
One can only wonder how the team would have performed had they been to pre-tournament international training camps like it was the case with Ghana, Nigeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Botswana was participating in the tournament for the third time after playing in the inaugural edition of 1995 in Mali and hosting it in 1997 – where the likes of Diphetogo Dipsy Selolwane and Mogogi Gabonamong played. On all occasions, the Diamond Zebras were knocked out at the group stages.