Hosts Namibia made an unexpected early exit from this year’s edition of the annual Cosafa Castle – going down to hoodoo team Botswana in the quarterfinals.
The reigning champions exited the regional tourney having failed for the umpteenth time to get past the Zebras in a low-scoring match at the packed-to-rafters Sam Nujoma Stadium in Windhoek on Saturday.
Despite the presence of the country’s Head of State, Dr Hage Geingob, the hosts put up a jittery performance and failed to trouble their more resolute opponents in many aspects of the game.
The usually lethal striking pair of Pikes Shalulile and Benson ‘Styles’ Shilongo were for the better part of the encounter starved of decent ball supply and were forced to take pot shots at goal from long range.
Not even the early setback suffered by the visitors could ignite the blunt Warriors’ attack, as the hosts failed to trouble their opponents, despite being cheered on by a partisan sold-out crowd, not witnessed in our neck of the woods before.
The Zebras’ first choice shotstopper was forced to leave the field in the 17th minute after colliding with the reckless outstretched right boot of the onrushing Shalulile, which earned him a caution, yet Namibia dismally failed to seize the opportunity.
Although the Namibians were the dominant force in the opening half, Ricardo Mannetti’s misfiring soldiers found themselves on the retreat after the resumption, with striker Shilongo a complete isolated figure. Shalulile missed two sitters directing his headers off the mark, with the goal at his mercy.
Botswana took the lead via an own goal by recalled burly Namibian defender Da Costa Angula, after goalkeeper Slimkat Mbaeva misjudged a harmless looking cross.
Sensing defeat, Mannetti reacted quickly by hauling off Shilongo, who made way for Ballack Somaeb. The latter made an immediate impact, converting a hotly disputed spot kick to draw the teams level (1-1).
After a scrappy 1-all stalemate, the final result had to be decided by the dreaded penalty shootout, that saw the visitors emerge victorious.
Namibia’s purple haired winger Deon Hotto-Kavendjii – hailed as a hero when the Warriors claimed the title in South Africa last year – missed his spot-kick to give Botswana a well-deserved passage into in the last four.
Saturday’s victory booked Botswana a place in the semifinals, after they defeated hosts Namibia 5-4 on penalties.
The unthinkable pairing of defending midfielders Stigga Ketjijere and Seun Hoaseb backfired badly, as inspirational playmaker Wangu Batista-Gome was uncharacteristically deployed out of position on the wide side.
Mannetti’s decision to keep both Abes Iimbondi and incumbent MTC Premiership golden boot award recipient Terry Uiseb on the bench for the entire 90-minutes of the match drew displeasure from football pundits, who questioned his wisdom.
In the other quarterfinal action on Saturday, South Africa’s Bafana Bafana came from a goal behind to beat Lesotho on penalties. The South Africans had goalkeeper Ryad Pieterse to thank for their victory after the former Kaizer Chiefs lanky shotstopper brilliantly saved two penalties in the shootout.