By Carlos Kambaekwa
Namibia – 0; Zimbabwe – 1
Namibia’s football team the “Brave Warriors”, as the team is fondly known amongst its ardent supporters, dismally failed to clear the first hurdle towards qualification for the maiden edition of the African Nations Championship finals in Ivory Coast next year.
The completely out-of-depth Namibians were totally outclassed and out-thought in their second leg match against the more purposeful Zimbabwean outfit at Windhoek’s Independence Stadium on Saturday.
Going into the match on equal terms, after the two nations played out a goalless draw in Harare a fortnight ago, the visitors showed their intentions very clearly from the onset, and made seven changes to the line-up that started against Namibia in the first leg.
The hosts could just not get out of first gear in the opening half with few goal-scoring chances in between, but it was the visitors who threatened to break the deadlock whenever they ventured forward.
With both defences in an uncompromising mood, the scoreboard stood goalless when the Burundian referee signalled the end of the first half.
Namibian coach Arie Schans made a forced substitution – with Johannes Seibeb replacing the limping Brian Brendell, but the Orlando Pirates striker failed to make any impact, surrendering ball possession at the slightest provocation.
The thousands of supporters held their breath in anticipation of the dreaded penalty shootout, but the Zimbabweans had other ideas.
Substitute Clemence Matawu sent the 500 or so vocal Zimbabwean supporters into raptures – nine minutes into the second half.
The ever-alert Matawu, who plays his club football with Harare’s Motor Action, found the target with a clinical finish after the flatfooted Namibian rearguard failed to clear the danger from a floated corner kick.
The goal seemed to ignite the visitors as they resorted to keeping ball possession with some good inter-passing that saw the Namibians chasing shadows for a decent chunk of the final 45 minutes.
With the writing clearly on the wall, Schans made a desperate double substitution and brought on the country’s leading striker Pineas “Heel Extension” Jacobs and Muna “Litre” Katupose, with Tuyeni Tugela and the ineffective Arend von Stryk making way.
Desmond Maringwa missed a glorious opportunity to kill off the match when he rushed his shot and hit the advertising boards next to the goalposts with the goal at his mercy – much to the relief of Namibian goalkeeper Athiel Mbaha.
Substitute Farisai Nyamunamwendo could not believe his luck when the burly striker was presented with a golden opportunity, only to see his weak effort going harmlessly past the upright.
At the other end, Katupose combined well with Victor Helu and let go with a rasping shot that kissed the side net, before Floris Diergaardt tested Energy Murambadoro in Zimbabwe’s goal with a well-struck free kick, but the agile keeper proved equal to the task.
Nyamunamwendo was once again in the thick of things but his misery continued – first missing the ball completely after being teed off by the enterprising David Kutyauripo, and then headed fractionally wide after he outjumped Mbaha from a corner kick.
The visitors finished the stronger of the two sides, and the narrow margin was surely not a true reflection of the match, which was dominated by Zimbabwe in virtually all aspects of the game.
Zimbabwe will now meet South Africa in a two-legged match in the next round and victory for either team will confirm their presence in Ivory Coast next year.
Though disappointed, Schans praised the Zimbabweans and felt they deserved the victory because they played with more passion.
“From today’s showing, it’s now crystal clear that some players in this team are becoming too complacent and think they are irreplaceable, but I can assure you there will be wholesale changes to this squad when we play Kenya in a world and African Nations Cup qualifier, in Windhoek next weekend,” fumed the Dutch national.
His Zimbabwean counterpart Jose Claudinei Georgini applauded his boys and said despite the fact that the team’s preparation was seriously hampered by the absence of players who were doing duty for their respective clubs (Dynamos and Highlanders) in continental club competitions – their intention was to play attacking football and the team responded well.
“The boys played well but there’s room for improvement and we will certainly not just go and rest on our laurels – we need to reinforce the squad with a good number of our foreign-based players for our next assignment, which is the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.”