By Carlos Kambaekwa
Any realistic thinking football fan can hardly be faulted for taking it for granted that Namibia’s Brave Warriors will be amongst the eight nations destined for the exit door after completion of the group stages of the 26th edition of the ongoing MTN Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana.
Despite losing both their opening matches in Group A against Morocco and hosts Ghana respectively, the wounded Warriors are still wielding a remote chance of reaching the knock-out stage of the 3-week tourney by seeing off Guinea in their final group match at the Sekondi Sports Stadium in Sekondi this evening.
The Warriors need a comprehensive win over the Sily Nationale, who will be without the services of inspirational skipper Pascale Feindinou after the finest footballer on display so far in the tournament was red-carded in Guinea’s ill-tempered 3-2 win over Morocco.
The Black Stars of Ghana are topping the group with maximum points from two matches and only a miracle will obstruct their passage to the quarterfinals of the tournament they have won on four previous occasions.
The Warriors have taken temporary residence in the basement of Group A and it will take a Herculean act to wangle themselves out of their current location.
The hosts only need a draw against the Atlas Lions of Morocco to carve themselves a place in the last eight, while both Guinea and Morocco, and to a mathematical extent Namibia, need comprehensive wins to qualify for the next round.
The gutsy Warriors dusted themselves off after their lukewarm showing in the opening match against Morocco and went on to put up a near faultless display against the host nation – a performance that won them admiration from many football pundits including the hard-to-please Black Stars’ followers who showered the relatively inexperienced Warriors with non stop accolades.
Cagey Warriors’ coach Arie Schans will be tempted to make slight changes to the line-up that started against Ghana with ineffective Rudolph Bester a sure bet to vacate his striking role in favour of the hungrier Muna Katupose who is yet to see out some game time since the team’s arrival in the West African country.
Fast-improving Jamu Ngatjizeko is certain to retain the left-back position at the expense of Civics’ team-mate Franklin April who had a nightmarish match in Namibia’s opening match against Morocco before he was hauled off at the start of the second half.
Making only their second appearance at the biennial continental showpiece, the Warriors are confident of emulating the feat of the Class of 98, who were eliminated in the group stages.
A decade ago, the luckless Warriors left behind a long lasting legacy in Burkina Faso with their brand of carpet football and never-say-die attitude that saw them stretching Ivory Coast to the limit before narrowly losing to Joel Tiehi’s inspired Elephants in a 7-goal thriller after coming back from the jaws of death.
A clearly fired-up president of the Namibian Football Association John Muinjo said Namibian football has finally come of age and did not rule out the possibility of the Warriors prolonging their anticipated short stint in Ghana, at least for the time being.
“Pride aside, we’ve got nothing to lose and will go flat out to record a runaway victory over Guinea in our last group match come tonight, and judging from our performance against Ghana, we certainly possess the pedigree to achieve our objective and upset the odds,” boasted Muinjo at the team’s training ground in Accra yesterday.
Muinjo further reiterated Namibia’s desire for continuity and said the football association would try by all means to keep the current crop of players intact and mould them into a winning combination.
“We don’t want to repeat the mistake of Burkina Faso where we retreated into basking in the glory of that team without embarking on development structures. If you look at a nation like Egypt, most of its playing personnel are home-based and that’s a clear demonstration of the strength of that country’s domestic league.
“There is an urgent need to professionalize our league if we are to make our presence felt at international level, but insufficient funding remains a major stumbling block in the path of Namibian football,” concluded the bulky football official.
Meanwhile, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon got their campaign back on track after their indifferent display in their opening match against defending champions Egypt.
The Cameroonians thumped Zambia 5-1 in their second Group C match, while the Pharaohs all but sealed qualification for the quarterfinals with a convincing 3-Nil win over a hapless Sudanese outfit.
The Chipolopolos need to beat the Pharaohs in their last Group match and hope the Indomitable Lions falter in their final tie against winless Sudan if they are to stand any chance of qualifying for the next stage.
Continental powerhouse Ivory Coast took a giant step towards lifting the coveted title after the Elephants cheekily burst the bubble of lowly Benin to celebrate a 4-1 win and maintained their grip on Group B, while Nigeria look destined for an unexpected early exit after the star-studded Super Eagles dished out a goalless draw against Mali after losing their opening match to Didier Drogba’s inspired Elephants.