GG’s stunning rise
With the howling rain pounding down on the National Stadium, having run his heart out for 82 minutes against the African champions, roared on by a home crowd desperate to see their heroes force a late equalizer, a tiring Gape Gagoangwe lunged in for yet another tackle.
It was the type of challenge he had already made countless times in the game.
However, this time the young midfielder misjudged the slippery conditions, mistiming his tackle by a fraction of a second. It was enough.
Already on a yellow card, ‘GG’ received a second caution and his marching orders.
The Zebras went on to lose the match – an AFCON Qualifier – 1-0 to an Algerian side fresh from lifting the continental trophy just four months earlier.
A year has passed since that wet Monday evening in Gaborone and the world is now a very different place. But for 22-year-old Gagoangwe, the memory of that November night still burns bright.
“I feel bad for getting a red card against Algeria because it was a crucial match and we were trailing. But that is part of the game, as we were under pressure. However, that does not justify my action as I let down the team!” reflects the talented Orapa United player in an exclusive interview with Voice Sport this week.
The red card meant Gagoangwe was suspended for Botswana’s next AFCON encounter, an away meeting with Zambia.
Forced to watch from the sidelines as the Zebras fell to a 2-1 defeat in Lusaka, the Ranaka native was restored to the starting line-up for the return fixture in Francistown.
Making up for lost time, despite not having played for eight months, Gagoangwe completed the full 90 minutes and was instrumental in a five-man midfield that expertly contained Zambia’s attacking prowess.
The Zebras won the encounter 1-0, breathing new life into their fight to reach a second AFCON finals.
They now turn their attention to another neighbour.
With two qualifying games left to play – home to Zimbabwe and then away to Algeria – Botswana sit precariously placed in the race for Cameroon 2022.
Third in their group, the Zebras are just a point behind Zim, which makes the nations meeting on 22 March next year all the more important.
For Gagoangwe, the fixture represents another chance to build on his growing reputation.
“I want to take this opportunity and thank our current national team coach, Adel Amarouche, who is consistently showing faith in youngsters. I am going to grab the chance with both hands and play to my level best in order to impress international clubs while helping the country as well.”
Although he is happy at Orapa, having made the switch to the Ostriches from their diamond town brothers, Jwaneng Galaxy last year, Gagoangwe admits he has ambitions of playing abroad.
Orapa’s recent foray into Africa has only heightened those dreams.
Although they crashed out at the preliminary round of the 2020/21 CAF Confederations Cup, falling to Rwandan side AS Kigali on away goals, Gagoangwe played both legs and once again impressed.
“It was a great atmosphere to experience as a youngster and I am grateful as it was such a learning curve. It was really painful to be knocked out of the tournament in the early stages as we had hoped to go further. We will try harder next time!” promised the holding midfielder, not holding back his disappointment.
The odd red card aside, it is an emotion the starlet has rarely had to deal with in his brief career to date.
Plucked from relative obscurity, Gagoangwe burst onto the elite league as a 19-year-old back in 2017, when Galaxy signed him from second division side, Kgabosetso Football Club – an outfit based in Moshupa.
Joining one of the biggest clubs in the land was a dream come true for a teenager who had always fantasised about playing football for a living.
“I started enjoying soccer while I still young. In primary we would play football after school until its dark. Then we would go home and get scolded but that did stop me from pursuing what I always loved and my dreams came true.”
As for his time at Galaxy, Gagoangwe remains eternally grateful to the club.
“Galaxy made me who I am today and I will forever be thankful to them for giving me the opportunity. I joined them at a time when experienced players like Tebogo Sosome and Lebogang Ditsele were operating in my position. So I had to sit on the bench for most of the time learning from them.”
Desperate for more game time, after three years in Jwaneng, Gagoangwe decided his future lay in the north with the Oranges of Orapa.
“Fast forward to 2019, I felt it was time for me to move on and seek a place where I can play more. Orapa United came calling and I was happy to cross the ship and make a name for myself!”
And make a name for himself he certainly has – although if Gagoangwe has his way, there is still much more to come!