Unlucky Warriors stumble again at first hurdle

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Carlos Kambaekwa

Windhoek-Lady Luck turned her back on the Namibian’s men’s senior football side, the Brave Warriors, for the umpteenth time when they were sent packing after the dreaded penalty shootout for the second year in a row.

Bucksy Mannetti’s Warriors put up a gallant showing in their opening match of the 2017 COSAFA Senior Challenge, but were unable to convert numerous goal-scoring opportunities against regional minnows Lesotho in their opening quarterfinal clash at their fortress, the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg, on Saturday.

The Warriors enjoyed the lion’s share of ball possession and created decent goal-scoring chances, with diminutive playmaker Wangu Batista Gome and Petrus ‘Dancing Shoes’ Shitembi pulling the strings in the middle of the park.

After a dull goalless first half, the Warriors upped their game at the resumption bombarding their opponents’ goal, only to be let down by awful finishing – with Tura Magic’s lanky striker Itamunua Keimuine the chief culprit.

The striker wasted a couple of gilt-edged goal-scoring opportunities that came his way and it came as no surprise when midway through the second half the Warriors’ technical bench retired him in favour of former Black Africa striker Kumbee Katjiteo.

The introduction of on loan Tigers attacking midfielder Abes Iimbondi seemed to be just what the good doctor had ordered, as the skillful Iimbondi linked up nicely with the Warriors firing line, but that oak door of Lesotho’s defense would not yield under pressure and held firm.

Prodigal Virgil Vries was back in goal ahead of his South African-based teammate Slimkat Mbaeva and did a splendid job between the sticks thwarting numerous dangerous attacks.
With reliable centre back Dudes Mwedihanga unavailable due to club commitments, Chris Katjiukua was partnered in the middle of the Warriors rearguard alongside Cosmos Denzil Haoseb, with another returnee Larry Horaeb and Ananias Gebhardt deployed on the fullback positions.

Lesotho almost opened the scoreboard as Bokang Sello fired his thunderous free kick into the wall, while Hlompho Kalake missed from an inviting pass laid on his path. As the match wore on, Namibia grew in confidence and had their opponents at sixes and sevens as they sought for the elusive match winner.

The tie finished goalless and had to be decided via the dreaded penalty shootout after 90 minutes of end-to-end stuff. Vries gifted the Namibians a lifeline when he guessed right to save Lesotho’s second spot kick, only for substitute Katjiteo to balloon the crucial spot kick into the skies.

Shitembi, Horaeb, Iimbondi, Hotto, Ketjijere were all on target for the Warriors, while Junior Gebhardt – who otherwise had a great game – had his decisive penalty blocked by Lesotho’s acrobatic shotstopper, Likano Mphuthi, to hand the boys from the Mountain Kingdom a 6-5 triumph on penalties after a goalless stalemate.

Similar to what happened last year on home soil, the Warriors will now compete in the less glamorous Plate Section and return to action tomorrow against yesterday’s winner between Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

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