The road to Cameroon is set to be full of potholes for the Zebras after they were drawn in a tough group for the 2021 AFCON Qualifiers.
The draw, which took place in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday (18 July), pitted the senior national team against Algeria, Zimbabwe and Zambia in Group H.
The top two sides in the group will qualify, with Botswana looking to take part in the continent’s premier football competition for only the second time in their history.
The Zebra’s sole AFCON appearance was in 2012 – the year Zambia went on to win the tournament, defeating a star-studded Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties.
The Copper Bullets’ victory sent shockwaves around the footballing world, as the heavily fancied Ivorian side included Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Cheick Tiote, Didier Zokora and the Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo.
Indeed, of the Zebras’ Group H opponents, only Zimbabwe are yet to win the continental cup.
Algeria were crowned champions of the 1990 edition – a tournament they hosted. The Desert Foxes could add to that solitary success tonight (19 July), as they take on Senegal in the 2019 Final.
It will be a first meeting at senior team level between Botswana and Algeria, with Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez and his teammates making three long trips to Southern Africa.
While it could be a blessing for the local side to have two COSAFA teams in their group, records show they have struggled against their neighbours.
In 17 matches against Zimbabwe, the Zebras have only won five times, with the Warriors claiming ten victories.
The Zebras are yet to beat Zimbabwe in a competitive match, as all five victories came in international friendlies, the most recent being a 1-0 win in April last year.
Against Zambia, Botswana has just two victories from 17 clashes, while the Copper Bullets have emerged victorious ten times.
Botswana’s two 1-0 victories against Chipolopolo were international friendlies in 2002 and 2004.
The two teams last met in the COSAFA Cup final in June this year, Zambia earning a hard-fought 1-0 victory in Durban.
They will meet again in a CHAN first leg encounter next Friday in Francistown before a return leg in Zambia next month.
However, despite their opponents’ impressive pedigrees, Interim Head Coach Mpote described the draw as perfect for his team.
“We have to play the best teams in the region. It’ll help us gauge ourselves,” he told Voice Sport on Friday morning.
Mpote said the players would take inspiration from the heroics of 2012.
“Remember when we qualified in 2012 we had Tunisia in the group and I believe we can also qualify from this group. I’m not sure if I’ll still be the team coach, but whoever is the coach by then should qualify because that’d be the only reason they were brought into the team!” he said.
The first AFCON 2021 qualifying matches are expected to start in November.