By Paul Bassey
Last Saturday’s friendly match had hardly ended when I had calls and text messages from colleagues asking for my opinion on what they believed was “ same of the same”
My answer was simple. “ This is Botswana, remember?” in case the answer was lost on them, I went further to explain that with due respect, this team was not Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Madagascar or even Guinea. This was Botswana, currently the surprise team of the Africa Cup of Nations, one that qualified as far back as March with two matches to spare, a record that Nigeria has never achieved even when paired with the lame and the cripple!
The Nigerian media was so engrossed in the appointment of Stephen Keshi as the coach of the Super Eagles that they failed to prepare the minds of Nigerians to the quality of opposition that Botswana was likely to present.
On March 26 2011 in Ndjamena, Chad a 52nd minute goal by Jerome Ramatlhakwane was all Botswana needed to become the first team in Africa to qualify for the CAF 2012 Africa Nations Cup in a five team group that included favourites Tunisia, Togo and Malawi.
This year, I got introduced to the Nations Cup Group K when CAF appointed me as Match Commissioner to the Nations Cup qualifying match between Malawi and Tunisia in Blantyre. That was on the third of September by which time Botswana was already sitting on top of the log with 17 points from 7 matches winning five and drawing two including back to back victories against Tunisia who were the defending champions of the CAF Championship for Africa Nations held in Sudan.
In Blantyre, coaches Sammi Trabelsi of Tunisia and Kinnah Phiri of Malawi, both could not put a finger on the success story of Botswana. They talked about a compact team, playing with a lot of understanding and confidence, one in which before you could decode their strategy had ended the game, victorious.
The Malawi-Tunisia game ended goalless, which meant that whereas the two teams still had the last matches of the group to be able to qualify, Botswana could go to sleep, field a weak team against Togo in their last match and still not bother about qualification. Of course, this was the only match they lost!
CAF was to bring me into contact again with this group when I was appointed CAF Security Officer for the Tunisia –Togo clash and the imposing Rades Stadium was virtually empty as Tunisians stayed back, boycotting the match, protesting the calamity that had befallen their national team, leading to a possible non qualification of their country in a group that had Botswana, Malawi and Togo.
It was unbelievable that Malawi could not beat Chad in Ndjamena and this paved the way for a Tunisia qualification after a 2-0 victory over Togo.
As if that was not enough, I was to come in contact with Botswana last month after the Nations Cup draws in Equitorial Guinea. As General Coordinator of Group D ( Ghana, Botswana, Mali and Guinea)to be based in Franceville in Gabon, I found myself departing for the inspection of facilities in the company of Coach Stanley Tshosane of Botswana among others.
Very humble and unassuming, “always ready to learn” he spoke about the soccer revolution that has taken a lot of patience and hard work even in the absence of commensurate funds and quality players.
“ Our strength lies not in the quality of players but in our determination, resolve and unity of purpose” he said. He believes they are the under dogs in Group D and will be going to Gabon in January to learn even as he credits the success of the team to a Nigerian Professor of Physical Education who he said has transformed the team with his professionalism. “ Mr Bassey you will meet him in January” he added.
I said to him that we could meet earlier since he was coming to Nigeria to play a friendly match “…we are not coming to play you, we are coming to learn from you” he joked. “ Nigeria is a great football playing nation. It is a pity that you did not qualify for the Nations Cup. I believe we will take away a lot of positives after playing you,” he said.
Such infectious humility, one that got to me, different from disrespectful coaches who despite their lack of technical savvy will be the first to boast how the opposition will be “beaten SILLY”
Enough of Botswana. Did our boys play well? My answer is YES. They played very well. You could see a team anxious to do well, determined, playing for their coach even when they lacked the necessary finishing power. The defence line was an experience repeating.
Was this Keshi’s team? NO. This was a team assembled by the Technical Committee of the NFF in order to beat the deadline of invitation of players, given the time Coach Keshi was to be engaged. Tradittionally, Coach Keshi would have opted out of the technical bench preferring to sit in the VIP box to watch proceedings and take notes.
Did he want to win the match at all cost? NO. If he did he would not have removed goalkeeper Enyeama after the first half when the returnee goalkeeper had not tasted any action as it were. The coach wanted to see as many players as possible and Botswana was a credible test for him.
After Kaduna, Stephen Keshi will then sit back and present us with HIS OWN EAGLES, HIS OWN DIRECTION, destination 2013. We wait.
SPORTS THEIR SPORTS
Before I was forced into writing about the Botswana match I had wanted to use this week to talk about the EXCELLENCE IN LEADRESHIP CONFERENCE 2011, put together at the Daystar Christian Centre by Pastors Sam and Nike Adeyemi.
For this year’s programme whose theme was INNOVATE….Change your world,I was the Syndicate speaker on Sports and in a paper I entitled Sports their sports, it was such a fulfilling experience sharing with those present on the hundreds of opportunities that sports present in engaging and empowering the millions of youths that roam our streets, jobless.
I will find time and space to dwell elaborately on this event whose vision and mission is to raise role models and improve them to discover, develop, release and maximize their potentials in God even as I dedicate this week’s column to Pastors Sam and Nike Adeyemi for a great concept that is aimed at turning around this country for the better.
See you next week.