Botswana coach Gaoletlhoo Nkutusang is hoping to use the boost of 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games qualification progression when the side compete at the 2019 COSAFA Women’s Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality from July 31-August 11.
Botswana were edged Namibia over two legs in April to set up a meeting with regional powerhouse South Africa in the next round in late August and early September.
The COSAFA championship therefore provides the perfect preparation for not only Botswana, but also Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, who are also still in contention for the Olympics. Malawi will meet Kenya in the next stage of qualification, while Zambia and Zimbabwe face-off in a battle between those two old foes.
Nkutlusang, who is nicknamed ‘Ronaldo’, has had her side in camp this week in preparations for the regional championship, though without the country’s overseas-based players. They will join the main pre-tournament camp starting on July 13, after which Nkutlusang will have the difficult task of trimming her team down to the required 20 players.
There are four new faces in the current provisional squad – Amantle Sentsho and Susan Balangani, both from UB Kicks, striker Popego Simon from BDF and Kesego Mathatsa, who is plying her trade at Double Action. Mathatsa played for Under-17 and Under-20 national teams previously.
In what is seen as reviving the striking department, crowd favourite Bame Ngenda has received her overdue call-up. She is the leading goal scorer in the local league. Botswana are keen to grow the women’s game and have been receiving assistance from the German Football Association as one of a number of projects in the country.
The side have never made the semifinals of the COSAFA Women’s Championship, which will be a major aim this year. The Lady Zebras had in fact yet to win a game having featured at the inaugural finals in 2002, and then again in 2008 and 2011, but in 2017 broke their duck with a 3-0 success over Lesotho.
They also managed draw against eventual champions South Africa, but it was not enough to advance from their pool as they finished second.
Last year they beat Malawi 2-0 in their opener, but a 1-0 loss to South Africa and a 0-0 draw with Madagascar meant there was no progress to the knockout stages. It still shows a vast improvement from the early days of the national team, when they lost 14-0 to the South Africans in their first international in 2002, which was in Harare at the COSAFA Women’s Championship.
The country has not yet qualified for a major championship, having entered the preliminaries for the last two FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, and for the African Women’s Championship since 2008.
Goalkeepers: Tlamelo Pheresi (Gaborone United), Gloria Moeng (Geronah), Refilwe Tshambani (Prisons)
Defenders: Veronicah Mogotsi (Double Action), Bonang Otlhagile (Double Action), Masego Montsho (BDF), Masego Sentsho (UB KICKS), Susan Balangani (UB KICKS), Goitsemang Tlamma (Geronah), Boitumelo Gammu (Double Action), Kesegofetse Mochawe (Township Rollers)
Midfielders: Atlang Busang (Prisons), Balotlhanyi Johannes (Double Action), Thuso Leseane (Collabo), Lesego Radiakanyo (Double Action), Lesego Kelebale (Prisons), Kesego Mathatsa (Double Action), Golebaone Selebatso (Prisons)
Strikers: Refilwe Tlholakele (Township Rollers), Nondi Mahlasela (Prisons), Bame Ngenda (Prisons), Kelebogile Magaga (Township Rollers), Masego Nfandiso (Geronah), Popego Simon (BDF)