Zebras galloping towards Tunisia hurdle
Botswana, shock leaders of Group K in CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2012 qualifying, have built their successful campaign on a daring attacking style that has brought them both success and kudos. But it will be their organisational skills, their ability to hold their nerve and absorb pressure that will be tested as they enter the most fragile stage of the preliminaries.
The Zebras have never qualified for a Cup of Nations or a FIFA World Cup™, but when they take on Tunisia in Gaborone later today, they will have the chance to move six points clear of their more heralded rivals with just three matches to play.
Dipsy Selolwane, the country’s top star, is cautiously optimistic. He believes the side can script a new page in their history by staying on a course that has seen them shock the established order of the group, which also includes Germany 2006 veterans Togo, Malawi and Chad.
“Tunisia are a very good side and we will not take them for granted, but we are hungry,” Selolwane told FIFA.com. “This is what this country has been waiting for, and we are so close to achieving what many thought was impossible. We won’t get ahead of ourselves, there is a job to do on Wednesday,”
Les Aigles de Carthage (The Carthage Eagles) are four-time FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and they have reached the last nine continental finals, including when they hosted and won the event in 2004. But they will have to get points in Gaborone, where the Zebras have won both of their matches. Tunisia coach Bertrand Marchand is nevertheless still an optimist despite the fact that his team have been hit by a spate of injuries. “We know that we have to win this game, it’s an important match in our qualifiying campaign,” he said. “Botswana will be difficult at home, but our team knows just how important this game is.”
Tunisia find themselves in this hole because they lost the first qualifier at home, 1-0 to Botswana in July. Jerome Ramatlhakwane scored the only goal of that match. It was a shock that set the tone for an unpredictable group that has seen Africa’s former minnows continue to emerge from obscurity to assert themselves against fancied opponents. Botswana still have to play Chad, Malawi and then finally, and most interestingly, Togo away. However, they are hoping to finish the job sooner rather than wait another nine months.
Hawks searching for redemption
After four games in the qualifiers, Togo are sitting second from bottom with only two points. Their chances of qualification have evaporated, and it will take a miracle for them to stage a late-come back. Tonight, the ‘Sparrow Hawks’ will host Chad, who are rooted at the bottom of the group.
With the violence at this year’s Cup of Nations in Angola and the retirement of talisman Emmanuel Adebayor still fresh in the mind, Togo have been going through a rough patch lately. They desperately need to get positive results and finish their campaign on a high for the future. Togo end their campaign with Botswana at home, and they could then have a final reckoning in the group as they travel to Tunis for the final round of matches.