Botswana Football Association (BFA) has come under fire after the senior national team - the Zebras – missed yet another FIFA international friendly week. While other nations were engaged in international friendlies this weekend the Zebras remained inactive. In the past this has been credited to lack of funds to organise matches. BFA spokesperson Tumo Mpatane confirmed the Zebras absence in the FIFA week friendlies. He said at present the association has decided to concentrate more on the U-20 team which will be playing in December this year since the Zebras do not have any major games coming up. “As you may be aware the association is a little under resourced in terms of finances. So if the Zebras were to play it would weigh heavily on the association,” explained Mpatane. Soccer analysts, however, said this is a serious matter that needs to be addressed as the national team needs to play more friendly games. The analysts are of a view that the international friendlies give the coach an opportunity prepare the team without any pressure of competition. Soccer analyst Fabian Zulu said missing internationally friendlies is a serious disadvantage to the national team. He said this affects a lot of things including the players, coach and results with the team dropping in FIFA rankings. “These games give the coach the chance to put his team and try combinations and formations without being under pressure of competition,” said Zulu.
Another analyst Mmoni Segopolo concurred with Zulu, saying the Zebras are missing the chance to check the players’ strength while playing tough opponents. Segopolo said the FIFA week was introduced after the football governing body realised that when different leagues are on-going nations are unable to assemble all their players as they will be engaged at clubs level. He said during this week all players are available for selection for their country, hence getting an opportunity to play tougher opponents. The last time the Zebras played was during the independence celebrations in September this year. Normally when the team play friendlies it plays only easy opponents. Segopolo said “missing this opportunity is a disadvantage for us since we are unable to gauge our team against tough opponents”. He said the reason the Zebras usually play easy teams which sometimes bring U-23 players is because BFA is not taking advantage of the FIFA weeks.
The analysts also said the inactivity of the Zebras during the FIFA-sanctioned international friendlies also affects the country’s FIFA rankings. Segopolo said since every FIFA-sanctioned game attracts ranking improvement if the team wins against a tougher opponent – it means the Zebras are missing the chance to improve the rankings. “We cannot improve our rankings if we are not playing any games. This means Botswana will go down since other countries that are playing,” he said. A lowly ranked Zebras will have to go through tougher qualification opponents in competitions like AFCON and COSAFA. Normally higher ranked teams avoid each other at the beginning of the competitions. Segopolo said since the Zebras are currently not involved in any competition, this should have been the right time for the team to be playing friendly games to keep the players together. Mpatane said the BFA leadership acknowledges the importance of the FIFA dates on the national team, adding that going forward BFA is willing to honour these games for the benefit of the team.