Amid the euphoria of England's run to the World Cup semi-finals in the summer, one flaw remained evident throughout. Gareth Southgate's side were technically inferior to the world's elite teams, a truth exposed for all to see when Croatia eliminated them with a 2-1 win in the semi-finals in Moscow.
England's manager was fully aware of the deficiencies and, by selecting an even more youthful squad than usual for the behind-closed-doors Uefa Nations League game against the same opponents in Rijeka on Friday, it appears he is seeking solutions to his side's major problems. With the manager emboldened by a new contract which runs until after the 2022 World Cup, is this a significant moment in England's evolution under Southgate?
Southgate's first post-World Cup squad for the Nations League meeting with Spain at Wembley and the friendly with Switzerland at Leicester brought disappointment in some quarters as it was a safe selection showing loyalty to those who served England so well in Russia, injecting little fresh young blood.
There has been no such show of conservatism this time around, though, as Southgate's squad contains six uncapped players, including 19-year-old Mason Mount – on loan at Derby County from Chelsea – and Borussia Dortmund's 18-year-old former Manchester City attacker Jadon Sancho.
The selections of Mount and Sancho stand out – evidence that Southgate now believes he must cast a wider net; a reflection on the paucity of English talent in the Premier League that has taken him into the Championship and the Bundesliga. Mount, flourishing with regular football under Frank Lampard at Pride Park, edged out 22-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, whose decision to stay at Chelsea after figuring at the World Cup following a fine loan spell at Crystal Palace looks increasingly flawed.
Southgate showed self-confidence and assuredness when making these selections. And he currently makes decisions from a position of huge strength after signing a new contract that will take him through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Southgate has also bought himself precious time for experimentation – a word he rails against but there is surely an element of truth in it – after building a formidable fund of personal popularity in Russia, not simply because England reached the last four but also because of his own demeanour.
It is much easier for Southgate to risk the odd poor result after reaching England's first World Cup semi-final for 28 years than if they had flopped in Russia – judgements and verdicts may not have been so kind and patience not in such generous supply then. Southgate's selection also came after two very average performances in defeat by Spain at Wembley and in the narrow win against the Swiss – old failings such as lack of midfield creation were still in evidence and he has decided to act.
Southgate attacks England's Achilles heel
As England arrived in Rijeka accompanied by a glorious Croatian sunset, this new-age squad looks increasingly like a new dawn, an attempt by Southgate to solve his biggest problem. England cannot escape the brutal truth that they were badly exposed in the key midfield area when losing twice to Belgium and in the semi-final against Friday's opponents in Russia.
Southgate's England were game but uninspired, lacking in creativity in those games. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who had an excellent World Cup, and Tottenham's Eric Dier are honest journeymen at the highest international level but not creators among the elite. It is with this in mind that Southgate has grasped at the opportunity given to him by Ross Barkley's new, although admittedly brief, lease of life at Chelsea.
Barkley last played for England against Australia in May 2016 and figured in only four games last season after struggling with injury and failing to establish himself under Antonio Conte at Chelsea. He was ignored by Roy Hodgson despite being in his Euro 2016 squad, was not considered by Sam Allardyce and Southgate has steered clear until now.
Barkley's biggest faults have been decision-making and a habit of conceding possession in dangerous areas. For all the plaudits he received after scoring in Chelsea's 3-0 win at Southampton, his carelessness after coming on as substitute helped Liverpool snatch a draw at Stamford Bridge.
He is now 24 and entering the crucial phase of his career. Barkley is unquestionably capable of the creation England need – now he must take advantage of Southgate's so far fruitless search for that X-factor. Leicester City's James Maddison, uncapped and only 21, falls into the same category after an impressive start to the season following his £20m move from Norwich City, while Southgate has also taken advantage of Harry Winks' return to fitness at Spurs as another option after impressing on his debut in a World Cup qualifier in Lithuania two years ago. With Mount also in the mix, the manager has real alternatives to the old order. These are a very important few days for England's potential midfield creators of the future.
The Botswana national boxing team recently returned from the zone 4 championship held in Mozambique. The team was led by head coach Thebe Setlalekgosi, two assistant coaches, Gibson Rauwe and Pearl Mooketsi. Two referees and judges, Gaseitsewe Ponatshego and Linda Mooketsi.
In the women’s category, Lethabo Modukanele was representing Botswana in the 48 kg division, while Phekie Bele and Sadie Kenosi were competing in the 57 kg and 60 kg categories, respectively. In the men’s category, Kobamelo Molatlhegi was representing the country in the 52 kg division, while Rajab Mahomed was competing in the under 51 kg category.George Molwantwa was competing for under 57 kg category and Treasure Moremi was competing for under 60kg category.
The boxers came home with seven medals, Modukanele came home with a gold medal, Kenosi, Rajab, Molatlhegi all came home with silver medals. While Moremi, Molwantwa and Phekie Bele all came home with bronze medals.
According to Moitshepi Nkabiti, the public relations officer of the Botswana Boxing Association, the team performed well and that they were hoping that Rajab would also bring home a gold medal. However, due to an eye injury, he could not participate in the finals.
He stated that, “though some people might think that how our team performed is not an achievement it is a big achievement to us. Other countries came with 19 boxers while we only came with our seven boxers, and they all came back with medals. That is something that we have to be proud of I really commend them for their performance. Having 5 players making it to the finals is really a blessing and we should not take it for granted.”
According to Nkabiti, Botswana was ranked fourth in the zone 4 championship, which was held in Mozambique. Other countries that participated in the tournament included South Africa, Zambia, Eswatini, and Seychelles. They all had a total of 19 boxers. Lesotho also had eight boxers.
The first Mascom Charity Cup spectacular has come and gone. The football event played at Obed Itani Chilume Stadium saw four football clubs playing one-day tourney with various charity centres being beneficiaries of the gate takings.
While the attendance was not at the expected level, it is said that the sponsor has made a killing with close to P500 000 made from voting lines. Football followers were asked to vote for teams of their choice, and top four clubs were eligible to play. A single sms voting line cost P 1.50.
Gaborone United became the most voted team with 62 984 votes followed by Security Systems with 51 027. On the third spot was BDF XI with 48 596 votes while Orapa United came forth with 44 401. Shockingly, Township Rollers did not make it after gathering a total of 30 637 votes, with BR Highlanders ahead of them having seen 44 204 votes to their name.
It is said, however that, the initiative live to expectation as clubs together with the sponsor have managed to assist charities of their choices. Mascom is believed to be happy for identifying beneficiaries and getting value for their money.
The mobile network company is still the longest standing partners of local football, having first tasted waters in 2005. The company now powers the Top 8 competition and said to have renewed the dame sponsorship at a value not exceeding 18 million. The Mascom Charity Cup was not the first to be hosted by a mobile network company.
In 2018, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) hosted a similar event in which followers had to vote. The four participating teams were Mochudi Center Chiefs, Gaborone United, Orapa United and Township Rollers. GU were the eventual winners.
It is however not clear if the tournament will continue in the next football calendar, but what goes down into the history books is that Teenage Mpote and Orapa United were the first to win it. In previous years, there have been an off season tournament whose aim was meant for charity purposes. The tourney was called Kabelano Charity Cup and was usually played by four big teams (Rollers, Notwane, GU and Chiefs) without taking the voting routes. It was last hosted in 2015 and had Barclays as the sponsors.
Yet another thrilling showdown is expected between the country’s hottest strikers, Thabang Sesinyi of Jwaneng Galaxy and Thataoyaone Kgamanyane of Gaborone United, as the duo are eyeing for the 2021/2022 Golden boot.
With only four Botswana Premier League (BPL) games left, the race for the honours is rolling towards a thrilling climax, but for two individuals there is a race for an accolade of their own taking place that could easily go down to the final minutes of the season. Leading the pack with 19 goals is Jwaneng Galaxy talisman, Sesinyi who is one goal apart from Kgamanyane who has netted 18 goals thus far.
Both players have their eye on the golden boot, hoping that their respective teams have fixtures to put them in with a realistic chance of catching up, or leaving the other behind. The Money Machine is currently at the summit of the BPL log with 61 points while the mining giant, Galaxy are trailing on the third place with 49 points, having played 24 games thus far.
Both teams (GU and Galaxy) are expected to face each other towards the end of the season, as the initial fixture was postponed due to Galaxy’s involvement in CAF championship group stages. With 19 goals chalked up for the season so far, Sesinyi is just one goal away from Kgamanyane who led the race for the better part of the campaign. Sesinyi who is on freakish scoring form has scored four goals in his last two games; a hat trick against Prisons XI and a goal against Sua Flamingoes in the midweek fixture.
But there is no doubt that Sesinyi is no longer playing to carry his team, Galaxy, as realistically there is a slim chance for them to clinch the 2021/2022 season, but he is eyeing the Golden Boot Award when the league falls off.
Kgamanyane has begun the season in tremendous form; scoring every time he is given a chance, while Sesinyi, on the other hand, reached the peak of his form in the second round of the season; scoring both in the domestic league and also on the CAF Champions’ league group stage. He featured on team of the week on February.
Furthermore, the Money Machine attacker showed some growth as his conversion rate has been on a rising graph in the games he has so far played. Although Kgamanyane’s goal scoring prowess has been there for everyone to see, the player has been hampered by injuries. It promises to be a fascinating battle between the duo.
Meanwhile, BPL this week announced that they will hold the 2021/2022 awards. The league has since added seven new categories to take the total number of categories to 16. Among some new categories are the Defender of the Season and Midfielder of the Season awards. There are also two more awards for the administrators, as the league has included Team Manager of the Season and the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Season awards.
The best performing players in this campaign will be included in the Premier League Best XI. Nevertheless, match day officials have also been recognised with the introduction of two more categories in the young Referee of the Season and the Female Referee of the Season. Furthermore, BFL CEO Solomon Ramochotlhwane indicated that the awards will be held on the 25 June 2022, just after the 2021-2022 season comes to an end.