It’s a game Ofentse Nato said he would remember for the rest of his life. And the reason had nothing to do with football, or the fact that Botswana won 3-1 and qualified for the next round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Soon after the final whistle came the news that 10 of Eritrea’s players had decided to defect. “I read about it online. I had no idea about this when we were playing but they must have come to the game having made up their minds,” the defensive midfielder for Atletico de Kolkata told HT here on Saturday.
Nato played the full match in Francestown, Botswana on Tuesday. The rest of the 24-member Eritrean contingent returned on Wednesday.
“Life is not easy in some African countries but it still takes a lot for someone to want to stay in another country leaving behind his family. It also told me how lucky I am to be in a country that is so much more stable. It’s not something we should never take advantage of,” said Nato, 26.
“I am glad at the stand Botswana has taken on these players, that is I am glad they haven’t deported them.” A court ruling on Friday, according to news service Associated Press, said the players’ plea for asylum would be heard on December 11 and till then they could stay in Botswana.
Eritrea has been under the United Nations’ scanner for human rights violations and similar defections from the national football team happened in 2009, 2011 and 2012. A report in the Guardian quoted a United Nations report as saying that slavery-like practices and torture were widespread in Eritrea. The Guardian report also quoted a spokesperson for the players as saying that should they be sent back they are likely to get death penalty.
Having won both legs, they beat Eritrea away 2-0, Botswana have qualified for the next round. They will play Mali next, on November 12 and 17, and Nato said he would go for those games. He could then miss three more games in ISL2: Kerala Blasters (Nov. 10), Delhi Dynamos (Nov. 14) and Chennaiyin FC (Nov. 18).
The Nato-Borja Fernandez central midfield partnership was an important reason why Atletico de Kolkata were difficult to break last term. “It’s been a learning experience playing with Borja. I come from a small country in Africa and he has played for Real Madrid and in the La Liga,” said Nato.
There have been reports that Nato could join the Atletico Madrid B team or play in the lower divisions of Spain after ISL 2.
Should that happen, Nato would go the way of Iain Hume (Tranmere Rovers), John Stiven Mendoza (Corinthians) and Jermaine Pennant (Wigan) who have used the ISL to further careers.