By Munu Kuyonisa
– The Brave Warriors and 2010
We were made to believe that the goalless draw between the two warriors (Zimbabwe and Namibia) in Harare created a psychological advantage for the Brave Warriors to win the return match in Windhoek slotted for May 17, 2008.
So, instead of watching the English FA Cup finale, we, the ardent soccer loving Namibians flocked to the Independence Stadium to support and witness the Warriors humiliate and defeat the Zimbabweans, given the home ground advantage.
What a shame it turned out to be! Personally, it is not so much the loss but the way we played and lost. Tactically and technically it was a dismal performance by our team. In reference to the recent remarks by our coach when we lost a friendly against Malawi (he said he thought replacing the whole team), many people at the end of the Zimbabwe game were of the opinion that in addition to the team, the coach should also be replaced.
In fact there are some who are of the view that our boys could have done much better in Ghana had they been under the auspices of the late Ben.
Back to the performance of our team against Zimbabwe and how we must move from there to prepare for the two soccer bonanzas scheduled for 2010 in Angola and South Africa. Two fundamentals in soccer need to be mentioned here.
The first has to do with the game plan or tactics – this refers to among others, team formation, player positioning, defensive and offensive moves. The second has to do with the techniques of ball control, passing, shooting, heading, crossing, etc.
In order to get the perfect results from the two, one has to combine the physical fitness of players. I will discuss the performance of the Brave Warriors based on these three not only against Zimbabwe but generally.
There are a number of defensive tactics normally used at away games and there are offensive tactics for home games. In football, you win competitions by winning your home matches. By implication, our tactic for this match was to be on the offensive by putting the visiting Zimbabweans under constant pressure. The Zimbabwe game was lost due to among others, the following:
With a draw from Harare, our game plan must have been offensive. For this, we needed a creative central middle fielder who could dribble his way through, delivering accurate passes to strikers. Both the left and right forwards should have been high speed wingers, capable of with-the-ball quick forward runs penetrating into the Zimbabwean half delivering balls constantly.
Since the Zimbabweans, just like us had nothing to defend, they used the direct tactic of attacking by quickly moving into scoring ranges through their wings. Yes, it was the Zimbabwean wings that troubled the Brave Warriors and we had no tactical response than to absorb the pressure.
I could not understand that we deployed the indirect method through our slowness, sideways and backward passes! This is only possible where one has skilful players with good passing abilities as they move along. We don’t.
We did not have the right middle fielder nor wingers to trouble the Zimbabwean central and full backs. The coach needs to seriously work on this.
The most valuable skills for a striker are the ability to concentrate on accurate finishing. This requires the following abilities:
– Strong on the ball, not kissing the ground at every opportunity;
– Sprinting – to outsprint the marker;
– Dribbling tricks;
– Stamina; and,
– Accuracy in kicks and headers under pressure.
Namibia has hardly produced a striker possessing the above qualities. Strikers must be identified and developed on those particular skills. The country needs a striker (target man) with the ability to force the other team to allocate two defenders to take care of him. This will deplete their defence and neutralize its absorptive capacity from the attacks. Together with the two forward wingers, you have four attackers within the penalty area of your opponents causing havoc.
Despite the presence of the two tall strikers, they lacked the qualities of a good striker worth troubling the Zimbabwean defence. Their concentration and decision making can be rated as poor. Wrong decisions by the two strikers were taken at crucial moments. This has been the character of our strikers since the creation of the Brave Warriors.
Those who are involved in soccer should go on a head search for strikers with the above qualities to be developed by the coach. Please don’t tell us there is none. Do your job.
To conclude on the tactics side, the coach and the team must agree on a particular game plan and how to respond should the situation on the field dictate otherwise. After reading the game, the coach should be able to change the format and positions.
Normally, when playing a defensive game, the coach should deploy a hard tackling defensive middle fielder (he scares the other team from making attacking moves) and able to slow things down. The cardinal rule on defence is that at that moment, left side players must be on the left, right side players on the right, full backs must be closer to the keeper than middle fielders; middle fielders must be closer to the keeper than strikers.
In defending free kicks, corners or crosses, the rule is to mark man to man. Indeed, the Zimbabweans’ scoring from the free kick was because at least two Zimbabweans were unmarked at that crucial time! Namibia has lost a number of games at the last minute due to lack of man-to-man marking.
On more than two occasions, two Namibian players together with the keeper scrambled for the ball causing confusion. Players must be developed to communicate during the match. Did you see that Zimbabwean dummy which they unfortunately could not convert?
That was good communication.
One of the tactics is to know exactly what to do when your opponents lose possession of the ball. I watched in disgust on two occasions when the Zimbabweans lost possession of the ball. Instead of our players moving with quick accurate passes on counter attack, it seemed like they did not know what to do in such a situation. They delayed unnecessarily until their opponents recovered.
Creating Spaces and Passing
The Zimbabweans were good at creating spaces both as ball handlers (the one with the ball) and movements off the ball by those without the ball. Our boys were very slow in closing them up and creating spaces for themselves when they had the ball. If not sure of an accurate pass, hold onto the ball. The coach needs to do a lot on the boys to perfect accurate passes. It was joy to see how Zimbabweans were comfortable on the ball, passing it accurately for most part of the match.
Free Kicks, Corners, Throw-ins, Penalties
These set pieces are opportunities to score goals. They should be practised and executed by those with skills to perfect them. How can it be explained that at least three throw-ins were disqualified? To who was that responsibility delegated after thorough training?
The free kick in the second half that was taken by a striker, was it by design or default? The coach must concentrate on the tactics and techniques of free kicks taken in the defensive area, in the middle and around penalty areas. They differ.
Around the penalty area, a one-touch decoy is normally useful in scoring unless you are Bimbo, but a straight kick 45 meters away is a wasted opportunity and should NOT be part of the game plan. Create confusion, don’t be obvious!
The ball runs faster than any player on the field. Using brain power must therefore be part of the game play. The English adage is that the most dangerous player on the field is the one without the ball. There is no other truth than this. Quite often, our players are caught ball watching and lose matches at the last minute.
Further, it is argued that soccer is a game you play with your head and not with your feet. In other words, one needs to think first what the foot must do later. How many times have we seen players passing when they are in a better position to shoot/score? How many times have we seen players heading the ball when it should be chested and controlled by the foot?
Indeed, the measure of growth for any team or individual is the extent to which correct decisions are taken in split seconds. The new coach has a responsibility to bring this growth to the individual players and to the team.
It is worrying that at this latest hour, we have not yet identified potential players for 2010. The NFA together with the coach must identify two teams to be called Brave Warriors A & B out of which the final team will be selected.
The coach must take these boys to the desert dunes and test their physical stamina, After all, the North Africans train in the desert and this is why they manage to sprint the whole 90 minutes of the match. This will need a lot of resources from both public and private. Let us put our money where our mouths are.
This refers to the mastering of particular skills by the individual player. This is another department in which the coach will have to work twenty-four hours to transform the boys. It is not acceptable that a player on the national team cannot perform a simple task of “killing the ball” when receiving a pass.
There are four body parts that are used to perfect ball control – foot control, chest control, thigh control and head control. These controls are more demanding with strikers. The coach will have to intensively work on requisite individual skills for defenders, mid-fielders and strikers on tackling, passing, crossing, dribbling, body swerving, dummying, corners, throw-ins, goal shooting, penalties, thinking, communication and many more. There exists no short cut.
3. Role of other stakeholders
We should not fool ourselves that we can be a football power by luck or miracle. It demands from all of us commitment and hard work. If one looks at the West and North Africans, they are physically superior to the southerners. Someone informed me that it is because they have gymnasiums where they train for stamina and strength.
Of late, I have started realizing that the legs of the Zebras or Bafana Bafana players are bigger and more muscular than those of our boys. Again, someone informed me that they have gyms specifically for the national teams.
We all agree that soccer is a game of physical contact. It requires muscular endurance for 90 minutes or over. Since 2010 is around the corner, the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture should suspend current construction of youth centre all over the country, and instead buy/construct one or two gymnasiums in Windhoek and equip them with the necessary equipment for the use of national teams.
Our boys are being pushed off the ball like mosquitoes because they cannot match their opponents in physical strength. They then continuously shout to the referee for protection. Well, not at Afcon or World Cup! You protect yourself by your strength.
The private sector too should play its role where it matters by sponsoring the equipment or the buildings.
Lastly, all stakeholders need to think of incentives for our boys. Besides national pride, they need to also see material benefits from this. It is happening in West Africa, why not here.
Remember that tomorrow’s success is dependent on today’s preparations – time is not on our side!