By Carlos Kambaekwa
Namibia’s senior football team the Brave Warriors, as the team is affectionately known amongst its ardent supporters, touched down at Hosea Kutako International Airport, east of Windhoek on Saturday.
Despite the team’s failure to negotiate a way past the group stages of the three-week MTN Africa Cup of Nations tournament, scores of supporters converged at Hosea Kutako International Airport to welcome their fallen heroes.
The gutsy Warriors were handed the wooden spoon in Group B that consisted of hosts Ghana and continental powerhouses Guinea and Morocco.
Namibia’s young and relatively inexperienced squad got a rude awakening in their opening match against Morocco – with the Atlas Lions hammering the out-of-sorts Warriors by 5 goals to 1.
However, the Warriors dusted themselves off and put up a sterling performance in their second match against the Black Stars of Ghana to the extent that even the most patriotic Ghanaian had to confess the troublesome Warriors disrupted the rhythm of their heartbeat.
The Black Stars were saved from the jaws of death when Tunisian referee Kacem Bennaceur waved play on after a deliberate foul on a Namibian defender with the Warriors’ rearguard waiting in vain for the sound of the whistle – but the North African official would have none of it and allowed play to continue, much to the relief of under-pressure coach Claude Le Roy.
The Black Stars scored the only goal of the match through the resultant referee’s blunder but the Warriors could have been back on level terms when Meraai Swartbooi managed to shrug off some fierce attention from Ghanaian captain John Mensah before releasing Collin Benjamin on the left.
The Hamburg midfielder’s tame shot from an acute angle landed in the side net with only Richard Kingson in the Black Stars’ goal to beat.
With hosts Ghana having collected maximum points from their opening two matches and already assured of qualification for the quarter-finals with a game to spare, the second qualifying berth was still there for the taking with the remaining three teams all having a mathematical chance of reaching the knock out stages.
The Warriors were determined to achieve the unthinkable and beat second placed Syli Nationale of Guinea by a six-goal margin, hoping the Black Stars would dispatch Morocco in the final Group A match in Accra.
It turned out to be a very tall order for the Warriors as they could only muster a 1-all stalemate against Guinea – a result that paved the way for Guinea to set up a date against pre-favourites Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals.
Namibia and Zambia are the only teams to have lost by the biggest margin so far in the ongoing tournament – going down by 5 goals to 1 against Morocco and Cameroon respectively.
Angola is the only remaining representative from the Confederation of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) following the early exit of Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.
The Palanca Negras finished second from Group D with 5 points, the same number as leaders Tunisia after the two nations seemingly played a match of convenience that ended goalless.
Though the Namibians failed to reach the second round, several players certainly left their mark behind in the West African country and footballers such as Hartman Toromba, Bryan Brendell, Athiel Mbaha, Richard Gariseb and Jamu Ngatjizeko could soon find new homes.
Whilst one can presume it is still early days to predict some adjustments to the national setup, it’s a well kept secret that the Namibian Football Association is not willing to part ways with Dutch coach Arie Schans, who was hastily drafted into the Brave Warriors setup as a stop gap because of former Warriors’ coach Benson Bamfuchile’s ill-health.
The likeable Bamfuchile finally succumbed to his illness and died at his hometown of Kitwe, Zambia, in December last year.
Meanwhile, Cameroon and Barcelona forward Samuel Eto’o Fils became the top scorer in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations with 16 goals to his credit as the Indomitable Lions reached the quarter-finals of the 26th edition of the biennial continental showpiece.
Eto’o’s record-breaking 15th goal came from the penalty spot against Sudan in Cameroon’s second match in Group C. The old record of 14 goals was held by Ivorian legend Laurent Pokou since 1970.