Zebras’ AFCON 2021 Qualifiers Apathetic Run

• The men’s national football team fails to qualify for Africa’s prestigious football tourney for the fifth time in a row since 2012 • Analyst says BFA must do better with selection of coaches

Zebras’ AFCON 2021 Qualifiers Apathetic Run
FRANCISTOWN 25 March 2021, Botswana National football team Zebras lost 1-0 against Zimbabwe in the Africa cup of nations qualifier match at the Obed Itani Chilume stadium in Francistown on 25 March 2021. Zebras player vies for the ball during the match. (Pic:Monirul Bhuiyan/Press Photo)

After the Zebras made their maiden appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) during the 2012 edition, many in football circles thought the local men’s senior national football team had finally found the form that would banish their poor reputation as the whipping boys of Africa to history.

But lo and behold, the years that followed saw them beat a hasty retreat to their cheerless reputation, prompting most to make the grim conclusion that the galloping of the wild horses may have been a fluke of Providence!

Witness how since making it to the 2012 AFCON, the Zebras have completely failed to impress in the tournament and did not make it to the biennial international men’s football championship of Africa in the 2013, 2015,  2017 and 2019  editions of the tournament. The Zebras have also failed to make it to the AFCON 2021 tournament billed for Cameroon in January next year. The tournament was moved to next year following effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that delayed the qualifiers.

For the AFCON 2021 qualifiers, the Zebras exited their group in a complete fashion of failure with only four points. This is the team that played to a goalless draw against the Warriors of Zimbabwe in the first qualification game before receiving a 1-0 beating from the Desert Foxes of Algeria. The Zebras then went on receive another 1-0 beating from Zambia only to defeat Chipolopolo (Zambia) 2-1 in the return leg.

The Zebras’ hopes of making it to AFCON for the second time were brushed aside when Zimbabwe defeated them 1-0 in a return leg encounter. Adel Amrouche’s charges received their biggest defeat of the qualifiers at the hands (or is it feet?) of Algeria after the Desert Foxes defeated the Zebras 5-0 in an encounter that was played in Algeria on Monday. This means the local team has played six games, won one, drew one and lost four, scoring only two goals and conceded nine times in process.

Quizzed on what went wrong for the Zebras in the recent AFCON 2021 qualifiers, renowned football analyst Jimmy George noted that the team faced a peculiar challenge of having to play crucial international games while the league is inactive. “Being inactive for more than a year is such a huge blow and the effects are going to be felt in the future,” he told The Business Weekly Sports in an interview. “The national team by its nature is parasitic on the league, so it was always going to be tough.”

George stated that the lack of competitive football exposed the Zebras badly. He said the psychological effects of inactivity on the players should not be disregarded. This is the man who also holds that the Botswana Football Association (BFA) can do better with selection of the National Team Coach.

“If we are saying a coach who reportedly holds a dual citizenship and both his countries have never trusted him with coaching a senior team at premier league level is good enough for our national team, then we are a self-disparaging nation that does not deserve any success,” he said. “Such kind of thinking is limiting and disempowering.”

According to George, the current Orapa United gaffer, Mogomotsi Mpote, is the right man for the Zebras job. “If Mpote was at the helm and our league was active, we would be telling another story,” he asserted. “But again I sound too hypothetical, which only shows how a lot of things went wrong in the campaign.”

He argued that even if the current Zebras squad had quality players it could not be compared with the team that qualified for AFCON in 2012. “It's a bit unfair to compare the class of 2012 with the current team,” he said. “The 2012 team was built over a long period with of time with the genesis of the team inspired by the Under-17 team that qualified for Mali in 1995 and the Under-17 that played in Gaborone in 1997. On one hand, the current crop has not been together for a long time. They have not had the benefit of being a team.”

With these recent failures one would wonder if the Zebras are slowly but surely regaining their whipping boys of Africa title with pride and dignity.