The Namibian senior football team, the Brave Warriors had a first-half strike from Pikes Shalulile to thank for the fact that they narrowly edged past Niger in a match of convenience in their Group K CAF Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier at Sam Nujoma Stadium on Saturday.
The Highlands Park gangling striker netted the only goal of an otherwise pedestrian clash between the two teams, with nothing to play for, since runaway group leaders Senegal already qualified.
The hosts were the livelier side in the opening stages and should have been two or three goals to the good going into the break had it not been for woeful finishing, with Shalulile and Deon Hotto Kavendjii the chief culprits.
Shalulile struck the decisive goal in the 25th minute to put the hosts ahead after the visitors’ shot stopper Kassaly Daouda fumbled Benson Shilongo’s attempt. However, the former Tura Magic target man missed a shot earlier on after he beat the offside trap, only to direct his shot wide of target with the goal at his mercy.
Soon afterwards, Shilongo, Shalulile and Kavendjii combined brilliantly, only for the latter to balloon his effort over the framework. Inspirational playmaker Wangu Batista Gome was in a class of his own, as the pocket-sided midfielder dictated the pace of the match, with defense splitting passes, only to be let down by poor finishing, as the Namibian firing line continued to fluff open goal chances.
Golden Arrows purple haired winger Kavendjii delivered a tantalising cross, but Shilongo miscued inside 18-metre area, under pressure from defenders.
The visitors provided little threat – if any – in the opening half and Warriors net guard Max Slimkat Mbaeva was consequently a virtual spectator, while the recalled Warriors skipper Da Costa Angula and his twin centre back, Mashaba Karongee, were solid in defense. Another returnee, Lary Horaeb, also had a good match on the right fullback position.
After the resumption Niger came out a different side, with substitute Alio Youssef’s brave close effort brilliantly gathered by the ever-alert Mbaeva, following some fine movements down the right flank by Victorian Zakaria, who got the better of Junior Ananias.
Kavendjii found space and hit a ferocious shot from 25-metres out, but his effort hit the upright before it scrambled out for a goal kick.
Both teams created goal-scoring chances as the game wore on, but the hosts were dealt a major blow when utility fullback Seun Haoseb was shown a straight red card for a dangerous late tackle on Abdoul Ibrahim, with 25 minutes of play left on the clock.
Warriors mentor Bucksy Mannetti was left with no choice, but to make a tactical change, withdrawing striker Shilongo for defender Oswaldo Xamseb.
The hosts should have added another goal, as Kavendjii found himself with acres of space after getting substitute Awillo Stephanus’s telling pass across goal after some good work by the hard-running Shalulile. But that’s how it remained: Namibia 1, Niger 0.
Despite the missed chances, coach Mannetti expressed satisfaction with the result. “I’m happy with what I’ve seen today, but we could have been up by three to four goals by halftime. The energy from the boys was motivating and going into the next games, we need this kind of momentum going forward.”
Mannetti added that it is now back to training in preparation for their defense for the Cosafa Cup. The Warriors will wrap up their preparations for the Cosafa Cup with two warm-up matches against Malawi and Zambia, respectively.