A piece of individual brilliance by former African Stars’ fast as lightning winger Deon Hotto propelled Namibia’s senior football team to their maiden victory in the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) Senior Challenge.
The purple-haired winger netted on either side of play to hand the gusty Namibians a well-deserved 2-0 win over Mozambique in a thrilling final, where no quarter was asked or given at the half-packed Moruleng Stadium, near Rustenburg, South Africa on Saturday.
Buoyed by the presence of a partisan crowd that travelled all the way down south to cheer their team on, including the sports minister Jerry Ekandjo, his deputy Agnes Tjongarero, and several other high-ranking officials, the Brave Warriors responded in the most appropriate fashion by returning the compliment in fascinating style.
Having reached the finals of the regional tourney twice before in the inaugural edition in 1997 and then in 1999 where they stumbled, the Warriors were determined to live up to the old adage of once bitten twice shy.
It was a typical cup final that saw both teams starting off brightly with the Black Mambas enjoying a slight advantage in ball possession and territorial superiority in the early stages of the match, but the resolute Namibian defence manned by the uncompromising centre back pair of Dudes Mwedihanga and Chris ‘Roadblock’ Katjiukua stood its ground.
Whereas the Mozambicans were superior in ball retention and technical awareness, the Namibians were resolute in defence and used their speed to the maximum.
Petrus ‘Dancing Shoes’ Shitembi was the chief destroyer for the Warriors – leaving the work of marking to fellow midfielders Stigga Ketjijere and find of the tourney Wangu-Batista Gome.
The former Rundu Chiefs talisman’s cleverly executed defence splitting passes disrupted the opponents’ rhythm and showed great maturity by dictating the pace of the match at will.
Hotto engineered the opening goal after a quick one-two with the habitually wasteful but hardworking Peter Shalulile and got to the end of the final pass using his pace to lob the ball over the advancing Mozambican goalkeeper Cesar Machava, somewhat against the run of play to make it 1-0.
Mozambique almost got an equalizer when Virgil Vries was clearly beaten but the ever-alert Junior Gebhardt was on hand to avert the danger as he cleared the goal-bound shot from the line with an acrobatic kick. Action was mostly confined to the middle of the park with Vries the busiest of the two net-guards.
Warriors mentor Ricardo Mannetti hauled off the clearly tiring Benson Shilongo for a fresh pair of legs in the shape of rookie striker Itamunua Keimuine. The substitute immediately vindicated the coach’s decision as he latched onto a through ball to set up the second goal.
His diagonal lay off eluded the ball watching Mozambican defence and found the unmarked Hotto on the left side of the penalty box.
After controlling the ball, he cleverly dummied his marker, shifting the ball to his weaker right foot before lobbying into the roof of the net with a little bit of assistance from a deflection to all but seal victory for the Namibians (2-0).
At the other end, the Mambas almost reduced the deficit with a thunderous driver but Vries was equal to the task while his opposite number was also called into action, thwarting close-range efforts from Keimuine, Gebhardt and Shalulile in the closing stages of the match.
The victory earned the resurgent Warriors a handsome cheque of N$500 000 and the coveted trophy.
The two-week competition attracted 14 nations – 12 from the southern region plus guest invitees Ghana and Tanzania replacing Angola and the Comoros Islands.