The Zebras of Botswana will have high hopes of a credible performance in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers, having seen their side progress from also-rans in past years to increasingly serious contenders.
Botswana have shrugged off the tag of minnows and proven their pedigree, last year pushing Egypt hard for a place at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Ghana.
Even though Botswana have entered the FIFA World Cup preliminary stages three times previously, it took them nearly 11 years after playing their first match to register their first victory. But what a victory it turned out to be.
Drawn to play against Lesotho in the African pre-preliminary qualifying rounds for Germany 2006, Botswana were considered slight underdogs against their near neighbours, who were ranked just a few places above them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking at the time when the draw was made.
The first leg was played in Gaborone and to the delight of the home crowd Tshepiso Molwantwa opened the scoring for the Zebras in the sixth minute. From there on out it was plain sailing, as Botswana added three more in an hour before the Likuena pulled one back in the 75th minute, but it was much too late to deny the home side their first FIFA World Cup victory in their seventh match.
With a comfortable three-goal win under their belt, Botswana could face the return leg in Maseru without any worries. The goalless draw kept their unbeaten run in the qualifying campaign for Germany intact and at the same time, spared Lesotho the embarrassment of losing at home.
Botswana therefore, for the first time in their history, participated in the second round of FIFA World Cup qualifying, but things did not go too well for them, winning only three and losing seven of their matches.
The southern African nation took part in their first preliminary competition for the 1994 finals in the USA, where they faced Niger and Côte d'Ivoire. They managed a 0-0 draw with the latter in Gaborone but lost their other three matches, finishing last in their group.
The next competition they entered was for Korea/Japan 2002, where they faced Zambia in a two-legged tie to decide which team would advance to the group stages. Not surprisingly, Zambia won both matches to qualify, while Botswana were knocked out.
For one of the smaller African footballing countries, Botswana is surprisingly well known. They have less than a handful of players based outside their country (the most famous being forward Dipsy Selolwane). The reason for their familiarity within the international football community is that one of the most able African football officials, Ismael Bhamjee, is from Botswana and, as a former member of the FIFA Executive Committee, has helped put Botswana on the map.