By Carlos Kambaekwa
A second half well-struck free kick via the educated boot of Floris “Squirrel” Diergaardt gifted Civics a 1-Nil victory over African Stars in a scrappy MTC NFA Cup final at Windhoek’s Independence Stadium on Saturday.
Both teams huffed and puffed throughout the 90 minutes with very few goal-scoring opportunities created, especially in the opening minutes as both sets of defenders gave nothing away.
The Civilians created the first real chance after defender Franklin April floated a dangerous corner kick that evaded the flatfooted Stars’ rearguard before reaching the unmarked Patrick M’kotwana, but the striker misdirected his header past the upright from an inviting position.
Moments later, Victor Helu beat the offside trap and sent in a good cross, but the ball was cleared away for safety, and from the resultant corner kick taken by Helu the Stars’ defence was caught out of position and the ball fell to Tugela Tuyeni whose close range header was blocked off the line by the ever alert Dennis Ngueza.
At the other end, Silver Suriyari headed over the bar from few meters when the quicksilver striker connected with Edison “Masinga” Muheua’s tantalizing cross from the right wing.
The overlapping Stars fullback was causing all sorts of trouble with daunting runs down the wing, but was badly let down by his wasteful striker with the habitually wasteful Browers Litanga Litombo the chief culprit.
Masinga was in the thick of things again with another telling cross but Suriyari reacted too slowly, and the chance went astray with the net begging with Esau “Pitso” Tjiuoro in no man’s land following a misunderstanding with his defenders.
M’kotwana left his marker for dead and elected to go for glory from an acute angle and his ferocious shot went harmlessly past the upright.
Civics’ veteran defender Erastus “Oupa” Ndjavera started a move from the back and got to the end of the final pass, but the lanky defender ballooned the ball over the cross bar from long range instead of buying more ground by venturing more towards the shooting range.
The Brave Warriors pair of Brian Brendell and Floris Diergaardt combined well and managed to carve open the Stars’ defence on rare occasions but found their Warriors teammate Max Mbaeva in an uncompromising mood.
With halftime approaching, Stars should have taken the lead when the enterprising Masinga delivered another dangerous cross again – the ball fell on the path of Getzen Ndjiharine, but strangely the veteran winger took his eyes off the ball and directed his header into the side net with the Civilians’ defence all at sea.
After the break, the lukewarm tempo continued whilst both sets of defenders remained untroubled with very little creativity in a packed midfield where players surrendered ball possession at the slightest provocation.
It was that man again Masinga, this time with another telling delivery that presented midfield workhorse Jasmin “Ninja” Karongee with the easiest of tap-ins, but his goal-bound close-range shot miraculously landed on Tjiuoro’s face.
The Civics net minder was injured in the process and the match was halted for a few minutes whilst he was receiving medical treatment on the sidelines.
After the resumption, Diergaardt latched onto a through ball and beat Mbaeva to the loose ball but his cheeky lob went narrowly past the upright – much to the relief of the thousands of Stars supporters.
Ngueza became the first player on the pitch to have his name taken by referee Arvo Mufeti, who had an outstanding match. The hard as nails defender committed a silly foul on M’Kotwana on the edge of the penalty box and got injured in the process.
From the resultant free kick, Diergaardt lined up and masterfully curled the ball over a static Stars’ wall into the right hand corner of Mbaeva’s net – leaving the lanky goal keeper rooted to his goal line just to watch helplessly as the ball kissed the back of the net in the 72nd minute, to send Master van Staden and his small band of maroon and white clad Civilians followers into raptures.
The Reds’ coach Gilbert Rwasoka pulled off Ndjiharine and brought on Heinrich Gazza Kazeurua, but the move failed to yield any positives with Civics’ rearguard giving nothing away as they defended in numbers.
Veteran striker Nico Andima replaced the ineffective Litombo as the Reds threw more bodies upfront in search of the elusive equalizer but the Civics defence held on for dear life. Karongee missed another glorious chance when the bow-legged midfielder got to the end of Kanu Kandorozu’s cross but the ball was scrambled away for a corner.
With time ticking by and the Reds’ thousands of followers becoming increasingly silent, Rwasoka threw his last dice by introducing Erwin Njembo in place of Erenfried Mbahuma.
His counterpart Ricardo “Bucksy” Mannetti retaliated with a double substitution – unleashing the experienced pair of Geoffrey Roman and Mentos Hipondoka for Diergaardt and John Cloete in a tactical bid to stabilize the defence and slow down the game. Civics made the final substitution by bringing on Rudolph Helu for Salomon Henock during the referee’s optional time. Final score: Civics 1 – African Stars 0.
A clearly disappointed Stars’ coach Gilbert Rwasoka blasted his players’ lack of commitment in a match that could have easily gone either way. “I’m not happy with the performance at all, the boys did not play to their full potential and we could have wrapped up the game long before we conceded that silly goal at a very crucial time. Nevertheless, congratulations to Civics, they are a very good team and took their chance when the situation presented itself.”
Mannetti praised Rwasoka for his tactical acumen and said they knew what to expect and countered them effectively. “Our approach was to close them down on the wings because this is where most of their goals come from. The game was like a chess game and local players seriously need to master the most essential aspects of the game. There are three phases of football – keeping and losing ball possession and how to retain possession and most importantly, mental strength.”
About Diergaardt’s winner, Mannetti said: “What you saw there was the culmination of hard work – we put lots of emphasis on set pieces during our practice sessions.”
The president of the Namibian Football Association (NFA) John Muinjo praised the fans for coming out in large numbers and showing good behaviour, and also applauded the match officials for their excellent performance and the tremendous improvement which has seen the men in black implementing the laws governing the game of football with the precision of a butcher.
However, Muinjo pulled no punches and expressed serious concern over the overall standard of football dished out on the pitch in recent times.
“The standard is way below par and the physical condition of our players is something that certainly leaves a lot to be desired, because our players get bumped off the ball too easily. We need to look at development from grassroots level by introducing reserve leagues if we are to take the game to the next level.”
Muinjo said these ideas would only be realized once newly appointed NFA technical director Klaus Starke takes up his post in due course.
Civics received a staggering amount of N$350,000, with Stars taking home a consolation prize of N$180,000 for their trouble while both semifinalists Oshikandela Ramblers and Sport Klub Windhoek (SKW) got N$60,000 each.
Civics’ stalwart defender Erastus Ndjavera was deservedly chosen player of the series and his teammate Diergaardt grabbed the golden boot award (6 goals) following their faultless display that propelled the team to their second win in the country’s most sought after silverware.
The Civilians netted the most number of goals in the MTC NFA Cup this season – rattling the opposition’s net on 15 occasions while conceding a paltry 3 goals in five matches.