Crunch time for Zebras, Mares

Gazette Reporter

The country’s senior soccer teams face an anxious period with the draw for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and the Africa Women’s Nations Cup taking place seven days apart. On Tuesday (yesterday) the Zebras were in the hat for the AFCON qualifiers draw, where they found themselves in Pot 4 due to their low rankings.

The Zebras are ranked 148 in the world and 45th in Africa, below the likes of Eswatini and Lesotho. Botswana received a bye to the group stages after Eritrea pulled out of the preliminary round tie last month. The Zebras were forced into the preliminary round match due to their poor ranking which sees them placed among the continent’s bottom 12 teams.

While the Zebras’ are in the bottom 12, the Mares are flying and among a dozen teams that will contest at this year’s AWCON finals. While the Zebras’ draw is done and dusted, there is still anxious wait for the Mares who make their debut in Morocco in July. The AWCON finals draw takes place on Monday, with Gaelethoo ‘Ronaldo’ Nkutliswang’s charges eager to know their opponents. The women’s team will have a shot at qualifying for the World Cup as the finals serve as a qualifier for the global tournament to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand next year.

The teams that finish in the top four in Morocco automatically qualify for the World Cup, while number five and six have an opportunity to progress to the global showpiece via an inter-continental play-off. Like their male counterparts, the Mares are in Pot 4, which is the bottom pool for the draw. This mean they are likely to face tough opponents. In Pot 1, which has the top seeds, there are the hosts Morocco, South Africa’s Banyana Banyana and Super Falcons from Nigeria. Record champions, Nigeria have won the tournament 11 times and would look to extend the feat. Burundi, Cameroon and Zambia make up Pot 2, while Pot 3 has Burkina Faso, Tunisia and Togo. The Mares are with Senegal and Uganda in the bottom Pot 4.

The Botswana Football Association (BFA) chief executive officer, Mfolo Mfolo recently told the media they are struggling to raise funds for the team. The BFA needs more than P7million to adequately prepare the team, including a stint at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria. Friendly matches and high intensity training camps are planned for either Qatar or in Europe in a country closer to Morocco.

“The technical committee met in March and they developed a plan which has been adopted by the executive committee. The plan is on how we will develop these beautiful women for AWCON. This is not about participation but we want to be counted. So we need the money more than ever before. The cost of the plan is P7.2 million, which we do not have. We need players from the private sector, the business sector to help us fund this plan.” Mfolo said. “We are still recovering. It is it not a good thing to say but it is in the public,” he added. The BFA was recently caught in a financial mismanagement scandal, after diverting FIFA funds meant for the women’s game. The mess claimed the scalp of chief executive officer, Goabaone Taylor, while BFA first vice president, Marshlow Motlogelwa resigned.