. The Mares victory
At Obed Itani Chilume Stadium in Francistown, The Mares of Botswana galloped on Wednesday night to book a ticket to their first ever football showpiece – the Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) in Morocco in July.
The half capacity Obed Itani exploded with thunderous celebrations at the end of the match that secured The Mares their spot at the WCON through an away goal rule after going down 0-2 to The Mighty Warriors of Zimbabwe. Qualification became a huge possibility when The Mares walloped The Warriors 3-1 in their backyard in Harare last week in the first leg of the AWCON qualifier, courtesy of a solitary goal from Esalenna Galekutlhe and a brace by Lesego Radiakanyo.
Coming into the Wednesday game with a 3-1 lead, the most important instruction to The Mares was to avoid conceding too many goals. The first half of the match was promising for the local girls, with a shot on target by Radiakanyo within the first 20 minutes and another over the bar shot by the same player ten minutes later.
As expected, The Warriors fought like wounded buffalos launching a comeback that remained a possibility for Zimbabwe ahead of the Wednesday fixture. Revenge was top of their agenda. But The Mares were ready and waiting, with an ace up their sleeve should the opponents faulter. With the Francistown crowd rallying behind them, The Mares defended with all their might. Showing superior athleticism and mental strength as well, they stuck to the tactics and game plan devised by coach Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang. The Mares focussed on wearing their opponents off before drawing from their match fitness to launch attacks of their own.
Although The Warriors managed to score two goals against nothing from The Mares in the end, it was just not enough to secure qualification. The aggregate score ended Botswana 3 – 3 Zimbabwean at the final whistle.
In a post-match address, Nkutlwisang said though they are proud to have made history, she realizes there is a need to improve game management and focus on how the team defends corners as well as how they deal with movements on and off the ball.
“We could have done better, but it is okay because we have qualified, it is now up to us as the technical team. From here we have to go back and see how we are can improve. The most important thing is that we have qualified. We need to improve game management even after we got conceded 2 goals; I could see that the players still had hopes to see the game through. Overall we are happy. We did our part in the first leg,” he said.
Nkutlwisang further explained that the team had played a very difficult first leg away from home which they had won 3-1 adding that for the second leg they had done a lot of video analysis on their opponents as a way to help prepare the Mares for the second leg.
“It is not easy to get 3 goals away from home. Today we had a good first half, we managed to close crosses. In the second half they introduced another player 7, which meant a lot of movement and a lot of EDT and we were not able to deal with her and they created a lot of TV1’s on the outside and that’s how they got their goals,” he said.
He further acknowledged that there was a need to set up good structures and intense preparation as well as good administration and taking care of coaches if the team had hopes of participating in big tournaments.
“We need good preparation, even after morocco, we need to set up good structures if we want to have a team that qualifies for major tournaments regularly .we need to have strong legs and we need to have good development. I am hopeful we will qualify again soon, and it will not take us another 10 years to qualify again,” he added.
Speaking at a formal dinner in honor of the Mares, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare acknowledged that women’s football is developing at a faster rate as it had taken the Mares lesser time to qualify for the AWCON in comparison to their male counterparts.
Rakgare further added that there were pertinent issues that need urgent attention in the quest to improve women’s sports locally, some of which include technical development and capacity building of coaches, referees and administrators as well as fast tracking the registration of players and officials on the FIFA Connect platform.
“As we celebrate this mammoth achievement tonight, we need to be reminded that from tomorrow our sights have to be firmly set on Morocco, which is only a few months away. I do of course trust that between now and then, you are going to train as hard as you can, and you will make us even prouder in Morocco, “he added.
Each of the 21 players will be given an incentive of P20 000, while the head coach will get P15 000 and the assistant coach will be awarded P12 500, whereas the 11 officials will each get P10 000.