Zebras set for date with destiny
The 26 March is set to be a day all football loving Batswana will never forget. The undefeated Zebras are one foot in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers. Stanley Tshosane and his charges need only three points to make a historic qualification to the biennial competition when they take on bottom placed Chad in their group match on Saturday.
Botswana has never come this close to qualifying and Tshosane knows very well that not only Batswana are watching but many others from the wider football community.
The team left for Chad knowing what to expect after an advance guard was sent to the North African country to check things out. In Malawi there were mind games, and stomach problems in a food poisoning incident that meant that that some players missed playing in the crucial game.
Voice Sport can reveal that the two-man delegation has gone and came back with the necessary information. A hotel owned by the neighbouring Libyan government has been identified as a place where the Zebras will stay once in Chad. The Zebras team led by Eatametse Olopeng reportedly rejected the first hotel they were shown as unsuitable
Upon arrival in Botswana Olopeng made the return journey this time with the team who departed on Tuesday for their camp in Ethiopia before proceeding to Chad. Talking to Voice Sport before they left Olopeng revealed that Chad is a country that has been trouble torn by wars and is only now recovering.
“We did our homework and are prepared. We will not risk anything, and will take no chances. Our players will have bottled water with them and even when they brush teeth they will have to use it. That is how serious we are taking this game. We have also tasted the food at the Libyan hotel where we will stay and are happy with what we got,” Olopeng said Tshosane himself explained before departure that his troops know what is expected of them.
“The boys know that nobody gave them a chance. It is not by sheer luck that we are leading this group. It is through hard work and commitment. In Chad we are going there for a fight and we will tread cautiously.
We were supposed to have a friendly game in Ethiopia where we will stay until Friday, but have since cancelled to avoid being spied on by our opponents,” Tshosane revealed.
The Zebras are yet to lose a game in the current competition and the only points they dropped were in a draw against Malawi away from home. In pursuit of the first ever AFCON qualification the mighty Zebras have gunned down powerhouses Tunisia and Togo.
The only hiccup going to Chad was the fact that the South African based players only received their visas on Tuesday. While the players arrived in Botswana on Sunday they were forced to go back to South Africa missing the Monday afternoon session. The good news however is that they managed to complete the process and joined the rest of the 19 man squad that left Botswana on Tuesday. From all the seven based South African players only Dirang Moloi is an absentee. Moloi has a groin problem that has even ruled him out of his club’s last few games.
Team skipper, Mompati Thuma assured Voice Sport that they are going to make the country proud and be part of history. ‘We have been the whipping boys and laughing stock for too long in Africa. That reputation has had to come to a stop. We are now at a time when we can’t afford to falter. This has been coming. It has been nice being the surprise package, but we are not counting our chickens just yet. What we want now is to arrive at the finishing line as a united force so that we can go on to achieve even greater heights,” Thuma said
His partner at the back, Supersport’s Mogogi Gabonamong, echoed his views. Gabonamong displayed a man of the match performance against Tunisia, and since returning from his self exiled absence has been a revelation.
“We have played well thus far and we now want to end it in style. The earlier we do it the better, but we are no longer pushovers. We are looking forward to making history. I have always maintained that we are talented and have just not been fortunate.” Gabonamong told Voice Sport.
PRESIDENT BONGO BEATS AFRICAN DRUM FOR GABON
Gabon President Ali Bongo insists that his country will be ready to co-host the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, despite concerns that preparations are lagging. Bongo said some plans for January’s finals are progressing well but admitted that “others were very slow”.
“When I go back next week I will be touring all the different facilities,” he said on a visit to London. “I will put pressure on everybody to make sure we are ready on time. We will be ready on time.”
Bongo added that he can understand why people in Gabon are worried that things will not be ready for the kick-off on 21 January next year.
“This is an important event,” he added. “The Gabonese people want it and I have no choice but to make sure that the African Cup of Nations will be played in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.”
Both countries are set to host the tournament for the first time, with the tournament scheduled to run between 21 January and 12 February. The qualifying campaign for the finals continues this weekend after a five-month pause, with teams battling for 14 places alongside the co-hosts.