Botswana will be no easy prospect to face at all for Stuart Baxter’s young Bafana Bafana in their Cosafa Cup Plate final at Peter Mokaba Stadium on Friday (kickoff: 3pm).
Coached by the experienced former Santos and Black Leopards boss and multiple times national coach, Major David Bright, Botswana have been one of the best teams at the competition for Southern African nations in Polokwane.
Bright steered the Zebras convincingly through the group stage, beating Angola, drawing against Malawi, then recording the country’s biggest win, and the largest in 2018’s Cosafa, by 6-0 against Mauritius.
Botswana are only in the Plate section because they lost on penalties to the favourites, full-strength Zimbabwe. And even if the Zebras were dominated in that quarterfinal, they displayed the organised defence and quickness up front that have made them one of the hardest teams to beat at the tournament.
Even in their fifth game in eight days, notably tiring in the second half, Botswana managed a 2-0 win over Swaziland in Tuesday night’s Plate semifinal.
If — in his search for young players impressive enough to show they are capable of adding something to his senior Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier squad — Baxter wants a resilient team, capable of providing a tough structure that is difficult to pick a way through, then Botswana fit the bill.
Bright, from SA’s chameleon-like performances — the overly rigid penalties quarterfinal defeat against Madagascar and Tuesday night’s 4-1 Plate semifinal thrashing of Namibia — has identified rattling and keeping Bafana pinned back early as crucial.
The coach believes the somewhat soft penalty awarded for handball that allowed Maphosa Modiba to score was what led to Bafana’s openness and fluidity against Namibia.
"Against Madagascar SA were quite slow. Against Namibia I saw a different team," Bright said.
"But I think that a football team as players are motivated by goals. So, at the time SA got that penalty, I saw them start to play …. they were motivated.
"But if the opponents could have scored first we were still going to see the same SA that played against Madagascar."
Thus far, a few players have impressed from the emerging Bafana, especially the forceful leftback or wing Modiba.
Others who might have done enough to make the Afcon squad when Bafana resume their Cameroon 2019 qualifying campaign against Libya at home in September and could push their cause further against Botswana are forwards Lebohang Maboe and Gift Links and centreback Siyanda Xulu.
Fortune Makaringe caught the eye too, but the defensive midfielder has been suspended.
Onkabetse Makgantai, the neat playmaker who has scored five goals and somehow has still not been picked up by a PSL club, having also been player of the tournament in 2016, is Botswana’s danger man.
• Marc Strydom is in Polokwane as a guest of Cosafa.