Zebras earning their stripes

While most of the world were distracted by events in South Africa during the early part of July, there were some incredible results outside of the FIFA World Cup on the Mother Continent. Group K’s qualification campaign for the CAF African Cup of Nations kicked off on the first of the month with Chad holding Togo to a 2-2 draw, but the scoreline which made people sit up was Botswana’s 1-0 victory  over Tunisia in Tunis.

Jerome Ramatlhakwane’s 31st minute goal proved to be the difference that day, but the Zebras proved that it was no one-off by defeating Chad by a single goal scoreline a little over a week later. A 1-1 draw in Malawi on 11 August not only sees Botswana unbeaten, but topping the group, four points clear of Tunisia in second place and five points clear of Togo in third. Although there is still plenty of football to be played, people are already tipping them to make their first appearance at the finals which take place in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in early 2012.

This is quite a departure for the team ranked 93 in the world and placed in Pot 3 [out of 4] when the qualifying draw was made, but their coach Stanley Tshosane, heralded for bringing about the team’s transformation, is still quite happy to be considered as the outsiders.

“I think it’s good that not too many take us seriously, we just have to continue getting positive results,” he told FIFA.com. “We are happy to be regarded as underdogs and prepare without too much attention. And, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We don’t have any stars in our team, we play for each other. I can’t really put my finger on why we’ve been getting such good results, I think it’s just hard work.”

We are happy to be regarded as underdogs and prepare without too much attention.
Stanley Tshosane, Botswana coach.

Observers have said Tshosane has built a formidable side that defends resolutely relies on counter attack, traits which will have to be in evidence when they face Togo in Gaborone on 3 September. However, Dipsy Silolwane, one of Botswana’s most distinguished and successful players, is in confident mood.

“We have seen that it’s possible, we can do it,” he said. “I think what is important for us now is to continue working hard and get the results. Although we are leading our group, we are aware that we have quality sides in our group and they will be tricky opponents. We cannot afford to relax, we cannot be complacent. We need to show the same commitment in every game. The priority now is to win the remaining games. There is still a long way to go, we have to remain-level headed.”