Soccer fever is starting to grow in southern Africa as a feast of football lies in store next year, kicking off with the African Cup of Nations finals in Angola in January. Unfortunately Namibia did not qualify for the finals after dropping out during the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, but Namibians got a taste of things to come when the Standard Bank AFCON Trophy Tour hit northern Namibia last month.
Standard Bank’s chief ambassador, Ghanaian football legend Abedi Pele and its Namibian ambassador, former Brave Warriors captain Bimbo Tjihero, received a great reception as they took the trophy to the northern Namibian towns of Ondangwa, Ongediva, Oshakati and Oshikango.
Hundreds of people lined up to touch the trophy and have their photos taken with the football legends and for Tjihero, who scored Namibia’s winning goal against South Africa in 1998, it was a special trip.
“I thought people had forgotten about us, but you can see that people still have the old memories of the 1998 Brave Warriors. This is a highlight in my career, I appreciate it a lot and I want to thank Standard Bank for organising this tour,” he said.
It was a fine gesture to honour a former Namibian great and hopefully this will lead to more of our former heroes being honoured in the future.
I was also on the trip to the north and had the honour of interviewing Pele at a gala dinner in Ongwediva. It was a great experience and I was touched by his humble nature and enthusiasm and desire to uplift soccer on the African continent. (You can hear extracts of the interviews at www.namibiasport.com.na
Our current Brave Warriors squad suffered their first defeat in more than a year when they lost 1-0 to Zambia in the Cosafa Castle Challenge on October 25. Namibia gave a fighting display and the match seemed to be heading for a penalty shootout when Zambia scored the winner four minutes from time, after a defensive mix-up between Namibian keeper Athiel Mbaha and his defenders. It was a cruel blow for Mbaha, who had brought off some great saves during the match, but Namibia hardly looked like scoring and Zambia probably deserved the victory.
Under Tom Saintfiet, the Brave Warriors have climbed to their highest FIFA ranking since 1998 of 101 in the world, but since the Zambia defeat he has been criticised for using too defensive tactics, and the pressure will now start to grow. But, it must also be acknowledged that Zambia were the overwhelming favourites since they have never lost to Namibia.
On the local scene, the MTC Premiership is in full swing as Blue Waters maintain their surprising early season lead, with traditional powerhouses like Orlando Pirates, African Stars, Tigers and Black Africa in hot pursuit.
Blue Waters suffered their first defeat of the season when they went down 3-2 to Pirates in a thriller at the Sam Nujoma Stadium in October. It was a great spectacle and there have been others – like African Stars’ come-from-behind 2-1 victory against Eleven Arrows, Tigers’ stunning 1-0 win against Black Africa and United Stars’ 3-0 thrashing of Oshakati City. With crowds of up to 3 000 flocking to some matches, the MTC Premiership is certainly growing and is once again set for a thrilling season.
In rugby news, we report on Rehoboth’s historic victory against United in the Premier League final as well as Namibia’s final World Cup qualifying match against Tunisia in November – if they win, they will book a place at their fourth consecutive World Cup finals, which will be a truly remarkable achievement.
In the November issue we also report on cycling, athletics and soccer development, including girls’ soccer, while we bring you our regular columns on Sport Science, Sport Shorts, the monthly sporting calendar and the MTC Player of the Month competition.
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