False start as Zebras regroup for AFCON qualifier

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By Bakang Mhaladi

Gaborone - Botswana's national team, the Zebras' preparations, for a campaign-defining trip to face Angola in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, were off to a false start as clubs refused to release players.

The Zebras were supposed to go into camp on Sunday, but coach, David Bright was left frustrated after clubs did not release players, as the Botswana Premier League programme was on.

Bright said he had been forced to shelve plans for a training camp this week, instead, the players are now expected to re-group on Sunday.

"It is frustrating, but there is nothing I can do. The clubs refused to release their players, saying this will affect their league programme," Bright said. He had expected to play an international friendly match, but that has not materialised, and the team is likely to fly out to Luanda, Angola, without any meaningful match practice. "I have requested local clubs with foreign players to release them so that they form a team that will play the Zebras. This is to gauge the team's level of preparedness," Bright said.

He said he had requested the Botswana Premier League to postpone this weekend's league matches, but that was declined. The Zebras can breathe life into their stuttering campaign if they beat the Palancas Negras in the Group D encounter.

Both Southern African sides are winless after the opening round, where Botswana fell to Mauritania while Burkina Faso felled Angola.

Bright is worried that their opponents are in a better physical shape, with the Angolan league, the Girabola, in full swing, while action in Botswana kicked-off on August 18.

The former Santos coach said he will run fitness tests, and any player who fails will be dropped regardless of their reputation.

This might affect South African-based midfield kingpin, Mogakolodi 'Tsotso' Ngele, who has not seen any action since the Absa Premiership began on August 4. Ngele is out of favour with Mamelodi Sundowns coach, Pitso Mosimane and has been training alone, which might affect his fitness levels. 

Bright has named Ngele in his 30-member provisional squad, which will be trimmed to 20 players, who will board the plane to Luanda.

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