As the 2015 World Cup qualifiers for the African region kick start in Gaborone today (Sunday) Botswana Netball Association (BONA) officials are confident that Botswana national team will qualify. The African qualifiers, which run from the 14th-19th September 2014, will see six participating countries fighting for two available slots.
Only countries which finish in position one and two will qualify for the World Cup to be held in Sydney, Australia next year. It is expected that the tournament will be played in a round robin format where teams have to play each other to accumulate points. This come after Kenya and Tanzania pulled out of the tournament at the eleventh hour.
Talking to this publication prior the tournament the national team coach Neo Kebuang said her team is ready for any team that is coming. Kebuang, who is seemingly happy with the team she assembled, is confident that they will do well to qualify. “The team is ready. We have had very good preparations for this tournament, so I believe that we are going to qualify for the World Cup in Sydney,” said Kebuang confidently.
According to BONA spokesperson Kelebogile Maplanka, it is the association’s expectation that the team will qualify for the world show piece. Maplanka said it is important for the team to go through as this will help them improve their ranking.
Currently Botswana is ranked number 16 in the world; a position which also places the team 5th in Africa. Tanzania and Uganda, which are at number 14 and 15 in the world respectively, have bypassed Botswana, which has dropped by two steps down from the previous 3rd in Africa in 2012. This, however, is not a deterring matter for the team to qualify.
Maplanka said the team has had a very good training programme and are ready for the challenge ahead. “The technical team and the players had a lot of matches that they used to assess themselves and see what is lacking so that they could work on those areas. I can tell you the team is currently prepared and ready to take on the challenge before them,” Maplanka told this publication in an interview.
Both the officials and players believe though the competition will not be a walk in the park Botswana will advance to the next stage. According the team vice-captain Tumisang Bagidi the moral and confidence of the girls are very high and they ready to take on any opponents. Bagidi said even though they will not overlook any team they are not afraid of any of their opponents. “We are going to qualify and but most importantly we want to qualify at first position,” clarified the vice-captain.
Asked about the teams likely to give Botswana a tough competition the coach explained that the tournament is going to be tough as everyone is looking for the qualification spot. “When playing against Botswana all teams give their all so we will treat them all the same,” she said. The coach and the spokesperson both agreed that it is important for Botswana to qualify as this will help them to improve their ranking. “Qualifying for the World Cup will provide more exposure for the girls as they will be playing tougher and more experienced teams at the world cup,” explained Maplanka.
Botswana national team has been in preparations for this tournament since June this year and it is believed that a strong team has being put up to fight for a one of the two available spots. The local ladies had the opportunity to play two international matches and a series of local games.
Without the presence of South Africa and Malawi which got an automatic qualification, Botswana’s qualifying chances have been slightly increased. The pulling out of Kenya and Tanzania further improved the chances of Botswana to go to the next round. Should Botswana make it through, it will be the third time the country played at the World Championships. It was in 2007 when Botswana made a maiden appearance at the world championships finishing on the 11th position. They made another appearance at the 2011 in Singapore championship where they finished on position 13.
During these qualifiers, Botswana will be looking to improve from the disappointing performance they displayed at the 2013 Africa Netball championships in Malawi. At this championship the team could not even make it to the semi-finals of the competition. Maplanka, who has a lot of confidence on the team, however reiterated that Botswana will put up a good show this time. She said since the team has had good preparations for the tournament they are in a good shape and are ready to cause upset to the visiting teams.
The home ground advantage is also is expected to work for the team.