For a country that has little more than two million inhabitants, Botswana boasts a remarkably competitive national football team, and the Zebras have jumped 15 places in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, ahead of such regional rivals as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. What is also remarkable in footballing terms is that Stanley Tshosane has been in charge of the national team since 2008 - five years, which can seem an eternity in the world of national team management.
In June, the southern African country, which is big in terms of land size but has a small population, was ranked 127th in the world and 37th on the continent. A spate of good results over the summer, including victories against the Central African Republic and Kenya, has helped the team rise to 102nd globally and 26th in Africa. Tshosane tells FIFA.com that Botswana embarked on a concerted effort a few years ago to improve the standard of football.
"Young players are developed at school level and then progress through the different school systems," Tshosane said. "There is also another tier of development that sees us identify talented players, which are then roped in to play in the national youth teams."
The coach, who is in his second stint with the Zebras, having previously acted as caretaker in 2002, believes that another factor that has contributed to the rise of football in Botswana is the fact that many of the national team play their club football in South Africa.
"We always looked with some envy when South Africa used to announce their squad for international matches," Tshosane continued. "They had players playing in the Netherlands, in England, Belgium and other countries. Now we have around seven players based in South Africa and that has brought a new dimension to our group. They rub shoulders with the continent's best in South Africa and that impacts positively on our team."
The stability and consistency that a five-year stint as national coach brings has also played its part in seeing Botswana rise up the rankings.
"We have assembled a technical team, most of whom have played football at the highest level, so they know what they are talking about," Tshosane explained. "I have also been able to continue my own development by going on courses in countries such as England and Brazil, and I have worked with clubs like Santos and Flamengo."
Still alive on the road to Brazil
Botswana play their final 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifier away against South Africa on 7 September with the hope that they can still reach the final round of CAF preliminaries. Three points off Ethiopia's pace in Group A, they will need to beat Bafana Bafana in Durban and then hope results go their way if they are to top the table and become one of the final ten teams from Africa trying to Brazil 2014. Even making that stage would be a great achievement for the side and proof that the hard work being done is having a big impact.
Botswana is one of the locations that has benefited from FIFA's '20 Centres for 2010' programme, and this, as well as projects falling under the Goal Programme, has also played a part in helping football in Botswana develop. The country has benefited from three Goal projects so far: the building of a technical centre with two grass pitches, an extension to the Lekidi Technical Centre and a football turf pitch. FIFA has invested $1.3m USD, with the government of Botswana also investing in these structures.
A new Football for Hope centre has also been helping the country socially, particularly in regards to HIV/AIDS. The organisation running the centre (the South East District Youth Empowerment Association) supports young people in dealing effectively with HIV/AIDS and other socio-economic issues, through education and access to health services. The development work, stability at the highest level and proper planning have provided the roots for growth, and in 2012, the Zebras qualified for the finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in their history.
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter travelled to Botswana for a groundbreaking ceremony for a football turf pitch at the technical centre earlier this year and remarked: “There are no small countries in FIFA. They all have the same rights, all have the same vote at the congress, all have the same rights to take part and organise competitions. Football is discipline, respect, fair play and competition. We try to bring those same values into society. And if we only achieve it a little bit, it will already be a success”.
By all accounts Botswana is already a success-story, as is evident in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and look for them to keep getting better.