Will Zebras escape its stone age play?
Freshness is the name of the game in this COSAFA cup. Undoubtedly, Coach Major David Bright wants his Zebras squad to adopt and play to win in the neighbouring South Africa-in a good will campaign designed to unite players. This might be the case because South Africa are the hosts of the 2018 COSAFA Castle cup.
A win was at the head of a long line of justifications for what was an underwhelming first engagement for Stan after the 2012 AFCON. He liked the clean sheet, the industry of his players, the commitment of his old squad despite their trials and tribulations. These are the buzzwords that echo drearily given the circumstances that have condemned our local mother body into shambles and causing retired players like Mogogi Gabonamong to turn down national calls.
There was no joy, let alone exhilaration then. But with Bright, emotional investment needs to be returned with a young inspiring squad. Relief on two separate days of this week was provided only by switching to play with Angola and Malawi. Observers point out that those were fitting fixtures that did enough to restore confidence in a squad devoid of experience. Now the team is on pole position with 4 points, having drawn 1 and won once.
While it was pleasing to hear the coach acknowledge the lack of cohesion in the attacking third and pledging to improve on the game against Mauritius, the evidence points to a conservative squad constrained by Stone Age players and their thinking. Alphonse Modisaotsile, an excellent footballer, made his reputation as an unanswerable force in the midfield. Kabelo Seakanyeng is overlapping in the side territory. For the Zebras, he plays on his own, a more withdrawn role that often exposes him.
With the Zebras’s midfield core so deep, the creative responsibility falls to wide men who are essentially denied any opportunity to apply sustained pressure because they do not see enough of the ball. By extension the centre-forward is condemned to 90 minutes running in the wrong direction chasing down opposition full backs, this has been the story of the Zebras even at the historic AFCON 2012 participation. But there are indications that Bright is looking to alter his tactics a little bit. The man of the match display by Seakanyneng, gelling well with strikers inspires faith that a more improved attacking scheme is being crafted.
However, continuing calls of attacking football are still pouring. There is need to identify this as a deeply fulfilling viewing experience. The dominant school of thought still lays the blame for Botswana’s seemingly travails at the quality of players at Bright’s disposal. Yet Onkabetse Makgantai showed his composure and slotting home with his left foot for the second goal that there is technique in his feet. But the question still looms, Will Koabamelo Kebaikanye bounce to his intriguing form on time?
Before he experienced a late dip in form, he teased teams on his own. He may not have the same explosive change of pace. But the league current goal scorer, Thatayaone Kgamanyane has the necessary authority and if he lives to attain his form together with Teenage Orebonye, they might be heartbeat of the Zebras at this COSAFA edition.
Without falling into the optimism trap that inflated expectation surrounding the ‘golden generation’ hope is retained in the calibre of Tsotso Ngele, Kabelo Dambe, Lemponye Tshireletso and the rapidly emerging Gape Mohutsiwa. But no amount of skill can flourish in a tactical straight jacket that places the emphasis on clean sheets over scoring, it seems. Bright will do well to follow the example of his counterpart Stan Tshosane, but it seems the play of the Zebras never changes.
There is no doubt that Bright trusts his players to perform and place the emphasis higher up the pitch, but he should threaten to axe Modisaotsile if he overstays on his half to encourage a system that supports the centre forward as much as the centre back. Zebras can progress in this campaign particularly that more young players are hungry to make their names known. But it might be a mountain to climb because experience as well counts. This, in any way should not deter them particularly if they are willing to escape their old form of play.
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AFRICA’S RECOVERY: Sports as game changer
The year 2022 witnessed unprecedented phenomena. Several Africans- Gotytom Gebreslase, Sharon Lokedi, Victor Kiplangat, Tamarit Tola and many others- swept the World’s marathons records.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting control measures implemented in several countries, led to many high-level sports competitions being cancelled or shelved, the Dakar 2022 Youth Olympic Games was moved to 2026.
Founder and Executive Chairman, African Sports and Creative Institute, Will Mabiakop, says the inability to hold traditional and amateur sports events have had a serious effect on public health overall, including mental health, sparking a revolution whereby athletes began to talk more openly about stress, mental overload and performance anxiety.
“Africa is home to the fastest growing economies before the crisis, no longer on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). COVID-19 deepened interdependence between SDGs, making them harder to achieve, especially SDG 10 (reducing inequality) and SDG 5 (gender equality_ as the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on poorer countries, and heavier burdens (such as care work) fell to women.”
Mabiakop stresses that as policymakers contemplate actions to speed up recovery and build resilience, they must argue that sports and creative businesses should play a central feature in this effort.
“The sports economy worldwide is estimated at 5% of GDP, but only 0.5% in Africa. If exploited, Africa’s sports and creative industries can offer policymakers innovative solutions. Especially, as regards job creation, and providing employment to the 15 million people entering the job market annually.”
HOW CAN THE INDUSTRY DO THIS?
By leveraging the two-for-one concept: past studies shown that a 1% growth in the economy delivers a 2% job increment in this sector (these ratios are calculated using data from 48 African countries and adjusted to the reality of the sports economy in Africa by the authors). There are between 30 and 50 job types, in sports and creative industries, respectively. These jobs do not fade away with the first major shock.
Mabiakop indicated that policymakers can use these industries to tackle multiple crises- jobs, poverty, and climate risks. Sports diplomacy- defined as communication, representation and negotiation in or through the prism of sports- has proven effective in building inclusive and cohesive societies. Moreover, sports and the creative industry can support better mental health and well-being, both important for productivity.
“Policymakers can also be true to the game by leveraging culture and tradition to celebrate identity and reap commercial value in sports, textiles and jewelry. Creative sectors allow deeper connection with culture, are not easily copied and provide great economic potential.”
He said supporting grassroots sports has powerful distributional effects. “Fortunately, technology has made reaching wide audiences easier, generating higher rates of success when talent is discovered.”
However, Mabiakop held that potential pitfalls must be highlighted. “First avoid build it and they will come policies with infrastructures denuded from the rest of the ecosystem. Like the many sports stadiums left largely unused.”
“Policymakers must remain mindful of how these sectors move the needle in human capital development. Also, align the requisite public policies needed for progress from grassroots participation to professional sports, and even to international sporting events. They should also support investment instruments to render these sectors performant.”