BY: Katlego Mechidi
Bebeto, as affectionate to her name, Bonang Otlhagile, historically led and inspired Botswana to their first ever Women’s Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Morocco this year.
Finally, the dream of reaching the AFWCON finals became a reality to the local ladies and February 23rd 2022 will always be a jubilation day for the women in football after a typically hard-fought fixture against Zimbabwe to win a spot at Morocco 2022.
The mares qualified on the away goal rule after playing to three goals all against Zimbabwe in a two-legged encounter where the local ladies walloped their opponents three goals to one in an away fixture and being defeated two nil in a final encounter held in their home ground at Francistown stadia.
This qualification made the Mares the second group to make it to the AFCON finals after their male counterparts, the Zebras did it exactly 10 years ago.
Over the years, the Mares has been preparing for their debut on the continent’s biggest football stage, the achievement of qualifying for Africa’s biennial football tournament is difficult to overstate given the size and footballing history of Botswana.
BEBETO`S LEADERSHIP HAS EARNED HER RESPECT TO INSPIRE THE MARES
Thanks to Bebeto’s leadership, she also became the first captain to lead Botswana to the COSAFA final. The Mahalapye born is a giant of the women’s game.When in the field, she is beast as this is witnessed through the way she directs and put a lot of energy in her game hence why is loved and well respected by her teammates and Batswana at large.
Bebeto’s commitment, discipline, decisiveness, calmness, maturity, mental strength and passion on the football pitch made her the first Botswana football women captain to guide the nation to a continental showpiece.
The Mares and Double Action defender and captain is the most capped as well as the longest serving Botswana women national team captain with more than a decade and having been entrusted with armband at the age of 21.
Bebeto couldn’t hide her smile and excitement when speaking to the media in the immediate aftermath of the results against Zimbabwe.
“We are so happy as this is for the time happening and excitement need to be of great magnitude, we thank everyone who supported us, everyone who rallied behind us and most importantly I would like to thank God and the technical team, if it wasn’t them, we would not be here”, lamented the 35-year-old.
The skipper says everything has its own timing and lamented that they qualified because they worked really hard and deserved to qualify, she also assured the football lovers that they will prepare for Morocco exactly the same way they prepared for Zimbabwe.
“Everything has its own timing, we are going to prepare for Morocco the same way we prepared for Zimbabwe, we are here because we worked really hard and we deserve to be there at Morocco”. Said Bebeto.
The mares have a strong squad laced with the international based players which helped them a lot, players like the United Stated of America (USA) based striker Esalenna Galekhutle, the experienced defender and captain Bonang Otlhagile and South African based goalkeeper, Sedilame Bosija just to mention fought for the local ladies to earn a sport at AFCON.
Coach Gaolethoo Nkutlwisang felt emotional after achieving such historic feat and had nothing much to say but to thank all those who supported the team.
“This is one the one of the games you don’t know whether to be happy or to be sad, because of such huge achievement, but I will just say thank you God, players and the technical team and everyone who put an input in such historic moment”, said Nkutlwisang.
Even though the ladies have qualified it is mainly because of their dedication and commitment as well as the direction of coach Gaolethoo Nkutlwisang and of course the leadership of Bebeto, because for a long-time women’s football has been underrepresented at both BFA and regional level as there have been little development and investment to grow them.
Botswana women’s football have been on a steady rise in the recent years with their best performance being runners up in the 2020 Confederation of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) regionally tournament when they slightly lost 2-1 to South Africa.
The Mares were drawn against Angola in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers whereby the winner was to face the winner between Zimbabwe and Eswatini to reach the finals in Morocco.
The local ladies advanced to the last round of the qualifiers after thrashing Angola with an aggregate score line of 7-2, a feat they obtained after passing over through them away from home to 5-1 and later on finishing them off with 2-1 at the Obed Itani National Stadia.
From there the ladies had a daunting task of overcoming Zimbabwe in the last round of qualifying, a team which sit 34 places higher than them in the latest FIFA rankings as Zimbabwe is in number 120 whereas Botswana in 154, but that turned out to be an easy task for them as they easily outclassed the Warriors to book their spot in Morocco.
The tournament which was supposed to be held in 2020 and had to be cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns will now be hosted by Morocco from July 2 to the 23rd where for the first time, the competition will be played by a total of 12 teams not the usual eight.
The 12 teams which will take part include, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia.