By Carlos Kambaekwa
It took Ramblers two years to set up a rematch with Black Africa in a domestic major cup final and it took the Tunchel Street Boys just two goals to confirm their desire.
Ramblers scored on either side of play to beat archrivals Sport Klub Windhoek in a highly charged semifinal of the annual FNB Knockout Cup under floodlights at Windhoek’s Independence Stadium on Saturday.
The match had two distinct halves with Ramblers on top in the first half while SKW took over the proceedings in the second half, with both teams’ rearguard working overtime.
Veteran striker John Samson capitalized on some sloppy defending and volleyed home after a hesitant SKW defence failed to clear a loose ball from a long throw in the 13th minute.
Action swung from end to end and the Germans started to pay frequent visits to the Ramblers danger zone and the striking pair of Albertus Cloete and Elias Lisako took turns in bombarding their opponent’s goal with pot shots, but found the lanky Ramblers net minder Lucas Hashiti in an uncompromising mood.
SKW’s towering striker Arend von Stryk gave the Ramblers defence a torrid time with his aerial power and came tantalizingly close with a powerful header but the ball flew inches past the upright on the stroke of halftime.
The Germans moved up a gear in the second half and had the Ramblers’ rearguard at sixes and sevens with quick inter-passing, but poor finishing and the agility of Hashiti between the sticks kept the score intact.
With time ticking by and urged on by unending chants of “Emawida”, coach Richard Starke acted swiftly and modified his game plan by throwing more bodies in attack which almost paid dividends as SKW pinned Rammies in their own half and had the crowd glued on the edge of their seats for the better part of the last 45-minutes.
After surviving an array of attacks from floated set pieces, the noisy Ramblers crowd were thrown a lifeline when Samson latched onto a long clearance and cleverly turned his marker with some deft footwork before delivering a telling cross to the penalty box.
Veteran pint-sized midfielder Raymond “Lolliepop” Awaseb popped up from nowhere and returned the compliment with a powerful diving header to seal the match, very much against the run of play with 10-minutes remaining on the clock.
Any hopes of a remarkable comeback by the Germans were dashed when Lisako fell foul of the referee’s crime sheet in the 89th minute for his second caution after a dangerous tackle on the enterprising Ramblers midfielder Hans Witbooi.
Both sets of defence deserve a pat on the back for the manner in which they absorbed the onslaught, notably the Ramblers defensive pair of stand-in captain Luther Kanalelo and Manne Martins, while Bobby Kaapama and Henzel Subeb also played their lungs out for Imawida.
In the other semifinal, Jerome Louis headed in from a corner kick just over the half hour mark to hand Black Africa victory over a hapless Eleven Arrows in a scrappy match that both teams would surely like to forget.
With scorching heat rising just below 40 degrees Celsius, the match was played at a pedestrian pace and not even the surprise inclusion of former Brave Warriors’ target man Paulus ‘Wire’ Shipanga could ignite the clearly disjointed coastal outfit.
Arrows’ coach Lucky Shipanga was clearly irked by his team’s poor showing and hauled off Mekondjo Tobias for Stanley Kaapama in the 32nd minute and Tobias showed his discontent by storming off the bench immediately after his substitution and disappeared into the tunnel.
Despite the hype that preceded the match, the game failed dismally to live up to its top billing, and the only bit of entertainment came in the shape of the lively ‘FNB Serious About Soccer Dancing Group’ during the 15-minute halftime break.
Black Africa mentor Smithley Engelbrecht heaved a huge sigh of relief after the final whistle and admitted that his charges performed way below the required standard.
“We should have killed off the game in the first half but a combination of wayward shooting and scorching heat restricted our rhythm and almost cost us dearly, but I’m nonetheless happy to play unattractive football and still get the desired result” said the modest coach with tongue in cheek.
Engelbrecht pulled no punches and blasted the men in black for their poor interpretation of rules and cited the seemingly overweight and unfit Christof Dausab as chief culprit.
Black Africa and Ramblers will return to the same venue in a fortnight’s time to decide the winner for the N$170 000 first prize purse on the first of next month.
The event sponsors First National Bank of Namibia have promised a huge layout on the day of the final with a hive of activities on the menu including a curtain raiser between a Parliamentarian team and an Invitational Eleven from the business community.
According to FNB Manager of Corporate Affairs Cassius Moetie, the lawmakers will be skippered by the Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab, while the Managing Director of FNB Namibia Vekuii Rukoro is to wear the captain’s armband for the corporate invitational.
Moetie was overjoyed by the vast number of white spectators who turned up to watch and cheer their teams on, and expressed hope that they will attend more matches in future as it can only augur well for the overall development of domestic football.