From Carlos Kambaekwa in Accra, Ghana
Namibia ………………………. (1)1
Morocco ……………………… (4)5
ACCRA – Namibia’s Brave Warriors were left with a mammoth task in their quest to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the MTN Africa Cup of Nations finals underway in Ghana.
The depleted Warriors outfit – going into their opening Group A match against Morocco without the services of defenders Hartman Toromba, Gottlieb Natuka and Sydney Plaatjies – faltered at the first hurdle when the fired-up Atlas Lions comfortably won 5-1 in a one-sided poorly attended encounter at the Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra, Ghana, yesterday.
The trio was suspended for Namibia’s opening match and had to watch from the terraces – leaving the technical staff to field a makeshift team with some hair-raising positional changes that saw striker Lazarus Kaimbi converted into a makeshift right back.
It took the Moroccans just two minutes to open the floodgates when Soufiane Alloudi scored from close range after a misunderstanding between defender Richard Gariseb and goalkeeper, Abisai ‘Zico’ Shaningayamwe.
Three minutes later, the ever-alert Alloudi was back in the picture again with goal number two after the slippery goal poacher caught the Namibian defence napping.
Shaken by the setback, the Warriors immediately regrouped and started to pay frequent visits to the Moroccan danger zone.
One such adventure into the Moroccan zone saw Kaimbi whip in an inviting cross but it had no takers as the strikers reacted slowly and the ball was cleared for a corner.
Youssef Hadji proved a constant thorn in the flesh of the out of sorts Namibian rearguard and almost got his name on the score sheet when the pony-tailed striker intercepted Michael Pienaar’s poor back pass which fell short of Shaningayamwe’s reach.
However, the keeper quickly redeemed himself and managed to block the rebound with his legs – much to the relief of the Namibian band of supporters and birthday boy, Robbie Savage, who turned 41 yesterday.
Despite the two-goal deficit – the Namibians started to gain momentum and Kaimbi’s long back pass to Shaningayamwe was immediately turned into counter attack by the goalkeeper who spread the ball to an unmarked Franklin April on the left.
After exchanging passes with his midfielders, the ball fell at the feet of Hamburg’s winger Collin Benjamin who in turn fed Brian Brendell with a copybook through-ball and the Civics’ marksman returned the compliment with a cool left footer to narrow the deficit after leaving his marker for dead with a clever run in the small box.
One moment of brilliance from Tarik Sektioui proved to be the turning point in the free-scoring match when the Moroccan playmaker tossed around both Kaimbi and Bredell before delivering a telling cross to the penalty area – Shaningayamwe read the danger well but his butterfingered catch allowed Alloudi to complete the easiest of hat-tricks, especially at international level.
April had a nightmare at left back with both Hadji and Sektioui taking turns to put his defensive capabilities to the sword.
Morocco almost extended their lead when the impressive Youseff Safri let loose with a fierce shot from a dead ball situation after the heavily-exposed April conceded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, but Shaningayamwe was equal to the task – parrying the goal-bound shot away for a corner.
With six minutes left before the breather, Congo Ngatjizeko fouled advancing Michael Basser from behind and Cameroonian referee, Divine Evehe, was quick to point to the penalty spot.
From the resultant spot kick, Sektiuoi made no mistake and gave the Moroccans a comfortable 4-1 lead going into the break.
Namibian coach, Arie Schans, hauled off the ineffective April for striker Letu Shatimwene at the start of the second half and the move immediately paid dividends with the Premeiro de Agosto striker linking up well with Benjamin.
With 27 minutes left on the clock, Pineas Jacobs replaced the tightly marked Rudolph Bester as the Namibians went in search for more face-saving goals.
Sensing victory, the Moroccans could afford the luxury of withdrawing their most valuable pair in the form of Hadji and Sektioui – giving some of their fringe players a run.
Substitute Monsef Zerka wrapped up the match with a well-taken header from a corner kick to make the score 5-1 following another blunder by Shaningayamwe who failed to cut out an innocent looking high ball.
The Warriors’ bench replaced Quinton Jacobs with Meraai Swartbooi and the diminutive striker quickly stamped his authority with some darting runs into the box but the strong Moroccan defence managed to thwart every effort thrown at them.
The victory propelled the Moroccans to the top of Group A, ahead of hosts Ghana on superior goal aggregate.
Ghana play Namibia on Thursday at the same venue.