The COVID-19 Restrictions: Bad timing For Zebras

  • Local players make up the bulk of the squad, they will be inactive for the majority of the month of March
  • Fitness levels likely to be a key worry
  • Zebras still in contention to qualify, they must win against Zimbabwe to jump to second place

BONGANI MALUNGA

The Zebras’ preparations for the crucial AFCON 2022 Qualifiers against Zimbabwe (scheduled for March 22) could now be affected by the latest COVID-19 restrictions that have put an abrupt stop to sport and recreation activities until March 31.

Orange

National teams are allowed to participate in continental competitions but match fitness could be a key concern ahead of the vital clash as local players, who make up the bulk of the squad, will be affected by inactivity at club level for the majority of the month of March.

The players will be required to be in top shape fitness wise ahead of the all important clash in three weeks’ time. The recent extension of COVID-19 restrictions will see local clubs stop training and friendly matches until March 31 as the government aims to control the spread of the Coronavirus in Botswana.

While the restrictions will help the COVID-19 Task Force keep the spread under control, the national team’s readiness for the Zimbabwe clash will be in jeopardy as they will have little time to prepare for the game while not being able to call upon players who have had competitive match practice under their belts.

Adel Amrouche recently called up a provisional squad made up of local players who went on camp to prepare for the upcoming AFCON 2022 Qualifiers. Foreign based players such as Mothusi Cooper, Tumisang Orebonye, Mogakolodi Ngele, Kabelo Seakanyeng and Thatayaone Ditlhokwe to name a few have been able to get competitive game time as their respective leagues are ongoing.

Local football analyst and TV pundit Jimmy George believes that there is a likelihood of a fitness imbalance between foreign based players and locally based players when Zebras takes on Zimbabwe. “The best way to prepare for international games is to participate in competitive games. National teams depend on players from various clubs and most of our national team players are locally based.

If only we had a squad largely made of foreign based players we would have been in a much better preparation mode as the local players would only supplement the foreign based ones but that is not the case. It is odd to have the national team active while the bulk of their squad is not active for their clubs. There will be an imbalance of fitness levels between the two sets of players and that does not work in our favour,” George briefly told Gazette Sport.

Zebras Still In Contention To Qualify

Amrouche’s side still has a great chance to qualify for the AFCON 2022 competition as they are only one point behind second placed Zimbabwe with only two games to go. Group H leaders Algeria have already qualified for the tournament with two games to spare, the second spot guarantees automatic qualification for the tournament.

A win for Zebras against Zimbabwe would see them go up to the second spot, with an away game against the already qualified Algeria being their last hurdle. There is a likelihood of Algeria resting their best players as the European season approaches fever pitch in the next three months and most clubs will be keen to hold on to the players and avoid seeing them getting injured on national duty.