Botswana this week announced relaxed sport and entertainment restrictions, paving way for the Zebras to battle with Zambia’s Chipolopolo in November in a 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) football tourney qualifier.
The Crocodiles of Lesotho – who have never qualified for AFCON – will also be hoping to show their international pedigree under ambitious new gaffer Thabo Senong.
Cameroon hosts the next AFCON and qualification for the tournament has been on ice for the better part of the year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Announcing an easing of measures designed to curb the spread of the pandemic, Botswana’s Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Minister Tumiso Rakgare said, “The lifting of restrictions would pave way for the Botswana Football Association (BFA) to start preparations and training sessions as they are facing Zambia in November. We must learn to live with this virus and adapt to the new normal.”
Only 50 people will be allowed at a football venue, meaning there will be no spectators and only players and officials will be in attendance.
Rakgare added: “This also means that there won’t be any sharing of water bottles and other things.”
However, the Sports Minister said domestic soccer leagues would not immediately resume as the BFA was still engaging the Confederation of African Football (CAF) with a view to commencing such competitions next year.
BFA president Mclean Letshwiti said the association’s taskforce was already rolling out a “bounce back action plan”.
The BFA said its medical committee had drafted guidelines on the protocols to be followed when teams return to play and these would be finalised in due course.
Elsewhere in the region, the Likuena (Crocodiles) of Lesotho will hope to turn a new leaf with new coach Senong.
The 40-year-old South African started coaching 20 years ago, and supporters of the national football team hope that this combination of youth and experience will finally give Lesotho something to smile about on the international front.
Senong has a CAF A licence and Coaching Certificate from the renowned Johan Cruyff Institute, among other coaching badges. He was the assistant coach of the South Africa A team from 2014 to 2018.
"I really don't think that age is an issue for a coach. I have always relied on my passion and my values as a person, that's what's important to me. I have the experience I need to help players and teams develop." Senong told FIFA.com.
As coach of South Africa’s Under-20 side from 2015 to 2019, he won the COSAFA Challenge Cup in 2017 and also led the team to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2017 and 2019.
Senong said the transition to coaching a senior national team entailed incorporating more views from the players than was the case with youth sides.
"With senior internationals you coach less and spend more time handling the various personalities and interactions to make sure that there is a good atmosphere in the dressing room." he said.
Lesotho will have to battle it out with Nigeria, Benin and Sierra Leone for a place at AFCON and few pundits give the Crocodiles a chance of swimming out of that pool.
However, Senong is taking it all in stride.
"Being one of the outsiders puts us in a good frame of mind, it means that we have to be alert and well prepared. We're working hard to give the players the belief they need and to improve the chemistry between them as well as their fitness and the overall collective play."
Reporting by Mpho Tebele in Gaborone & Thando Mnkandhla in WIndhoek