By Carlos Kambaekwa
The Brave Warriors and their noisy supporters left Hosea Kutako International Airport amidst much fanfare last Thursday, but when the seemingly leg-weary travelling entourage touched down at Accra’s Kotoka Airport, it was a pure contrast, with almost nobody apart from a few immigration officers noticing the Namibians.
Namibia opens her assault in the 26th edition of the biennial continental showpiece when they roll into action with a tie against Morocco at the Ohene Djan stadium in Accra this afternoon with the odds heavily stacked against the Warriors, who together with Group B campaigners Benin are widely regarded as the tournament dark horses.
A trip around the heavily populated city of Accra showed clearly that the soccer showpiece is high on the menu of almost every citizen in the football-mad West African nation.
All the trauma that emanated from the chaotic organisation during the accreditation process will be temporarily forgotten. Thousands of journalists and local volunteers were made to scramble around to be accredited – a situation that could raise serious questions about Africa’s ability to organise big events.
The Warriors go into their opening match against the Atlas Lions in high spirits and nothing will please new coach Arie Schans and his two assistants Ronnie Kanalelo and Brian Isaacs more than seeing off the Moroccans to await bigger tests ahead of the remaining group matches against hosts Ghana and Guinea.
However, the Moroccans will be full of confidence coming into this tournament on the back of a morale-boosting 1-all stalemate against France in the French capital of Paris after having taken the lead earlier on.
The Moroccans also recorded some inspiring results in their warm-up matches – more recently a 3-nil win over fellow Afcon finalists Senegal – and already accounted for Namibia in an earlier friendly, results that could have given them the self-belief that they would go all the way in the three-week tourney, starting with victory against Namibia today.
Though the Warriors failed to record wins in all their warm-up matches against fellow Afcon finalists Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal and Morocco, those results will count for nothing because such records do not last forever and Namibia would take heart from this to overturn their fortunes against their more fancied opponents by upsetting the odds.
The Namibians are fired up and least bothered by the underdog tag, as they seek to reach the knockout stages of the tournament at only their second attempt following the team’s impressive performance in Burkina Faso a decade ago.
With Sydney Plaatjies ineligible for Namibia’s opening match against Morocco, the team were dealt a further blow when Ramblers strong running left winger Jeremiah Baisako was withdrawn from the squad and sent home after medical tests prior to the tournament revealed the player was unfit to be subjected to competitive football at this level.
As has become customary ahead of major tournaments, all players are obliged to undergo medical tests to determine any deficiency with their physical condition that might pose a danger to a player’s health during the competition.
Baisako has recently put pen to paper with South African professional football club Free State Stars in the South African Premiership and was due to join his new teammates after completion of the African Cup of Nations finals in Ghana.
Meanwhile, the President of the Namibian Football Association John Muinjo has expressed concern and dissatisfaction over the chaotic manner in which the Local Organizing Committee had gone about the allocation of accreditation.
“This is a very bad reflection on our organizational ability and could easily be interpreted by the foreign media that Africa is lagging far behind in the area of putting basic things together. We really need to jack up our act if we are to avoid opening ourselves to unnecessary and unwarranted criticism,” fumed the football official.