“If it is not broken, do not fix it” is the universal phrase that explains why one should cease from changing a successful routine with the hope of achieving better results. The Botswana senior men’s national football is a prime example of a team that has defied the above mentioned phrase, with disastrous circumstances.
Zebras used to stage their international games at the University of Botswana Stadium, a venue they used while awaiting the completion of the National Stadium. Few could argue that the Zebras had turned the university stadium into a fortress, it is the only stadium in which they are yet to taste defeat.
The likes of Togo, Tunisia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chad, to name a few, all failed to register a win at the UB Stadium. Qualification for the 2012 AFCON tournament was achieved on foundation of an unbeaten home ground record, Botswana won three games (against Chad, Togo and Tunisia) and recorded a goalless draw against Malawi.
Some have argued that a move back to the National Stadium will continue to benefit the local football association given its capacity (22 000), however, the national team has struggled to draw more supporters to the venue as the stadium is often far away from being at capacity in terms of attendance.
The Lobatse Sports Complex (20 000 capacity) has also been the site of the team’s humiliating 4-1 defeat at the hands of Mali in the 2013 AFCON Qualification playoff game, recently Botswana suffered a 2-1 setback at the hands of Mozambique at the Lobatse venue.
The UB Stadium has a capacity of approximately 8 500 but the pitch made visiting teams uncomfortable as they struggled to adapt to it. Critics of the stadium often highlighted the size of the pitch as a hindrance for teams used to playing on more open fields.
However, former Zebras coach Stanley Tshosane has stated that teams that complained of the size of UB Stadium were merely looking for excuses. “UB Stadium was inspected and met all the international standards set by FIFA. Its measurements are on par with most internationally recognized stadiums. Those who criticized the size of the pitch had their own reasons for doing so,” said the former Zebras coach who took the teamto the 2012 AFCON finals..
Tshosane acknowledged the 2012 team’s home ground record but also highlighted the fact that the team performed equally impressive on away game assignments.
Botswana’s last competitive fixture at the UB Stadium was a 1-1 draw against South Africa in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. The stadium was regarded by many as Zebras’ spiritual home. Numerous countries around the world often use stadia that bode well with their national team record; for example Germany’s largest stadium is the Signal Iduna Park (80 700 capacity) but their national side often uses the Allianz Arena (70 000 capacity) and the Olympicstadion Berlin (74 000 capacity) for a large portion of their international fixtures.
In 2014, South Africa hosted most of their games at the Cape Town Stadium (64 000 capacity) even though they have larger stadium such as the FNB Stadium (94 000). They were tough to beat during that period as they qualified for the 2015 AFCON tournament at the expense of defending champions Nigeria. They tasted defeat once in the stadium as they lost their final group game in the 2014 CHAN tournament.
Could Wales’ formula work for Botswana?
The Gareth Bale led Wales national team has become a force in the European game in recent months. Prior to their recent heroics they were the ‘whipping boys’ of European football, they have now grabbed the attention of spectators around the world with their new found winning mentality.
They have entered the top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings. Their rise is somewhat similar to that of the Zebras during the 2009 to 2011 era. The Welsh national side is currently leading their group in the EURO 2016 Qualifiers, a tournament they have never qualified for.
The secret to their success has been their decision to use the Cardiff City Stadium (33 000 capacity) as opposed to using their largest arena, the Millennium Stadium (75 000 capacity). The side used to play their games at the Millennium Stadium but switching to the Cardiff City arena seems to have improved their fortunes. They are unbeaten at the latter mentioned stadium, their unbeaten record stretches back to 2013 when they lost a 2014 World Cup Qualification fixture against Belgium.
Wales’ home record could help them qualify for next year’s EURO 2016 tournament. The Cardiff City stadium has proved to be their ‘lucky charm’, Zebras should take a page out of Wales’ play book by returning to their spiritual home, the UB Stadium.