The Brave Warriors have qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in fortuitous circumstances. Had Dean Hotto’s speculative long range effort in the dying seconds of the game not been fumbled into the Mozambique goal, Namibia would have definitely not have been at AFCON.
What’s more, along with my beloved Tanzania, they are the team that qualified with the fewest points (8). Like Tanzania, it’s hard to pinpoint why they exactly qualified other than having the rub of the green and being the beneficiaries of the leftover spots of the expanded tournament.
Then again, in football – and in life – you make your own luck sometimes, and timing is everything. Namibia took advantage of that late winner away to Mozambique by beating them 1-0 in the return fixture in their next matchday.
So here they are. The expectation is that they will be the whipping boys but they are refusing to be that with coach Ricardo Mannetti stating they’ll be the ‘best underdogs’ at AFCON.
They’ll certainly need to live up to their ‘Brave Warriors’ nickname to live up to that. They are in a tough group with tournament contenders Morocco, Ivory Coast and South Africa.
It could be a case of damage limitation and leaving the tournament with their reputation intact. That may very well mean they leave the tournament as the best underdogs.
Namibia switched between the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 systems during qualifying but it was the former system which saw the pivotal results to allow them to qualify. They play direct, releasing the ball for their two strikers who tend to hold the ball up and wait for support from midfield and the wing back positions. One of those two strikers will be Peter Shalulile who does a brilliant jon with his back to goal and covering ground across the forward line. The wing-backs look to release the two strikers early, especially into the channels.
The back three – It’s unknown how much Namibia will use the back three but they have looked at their most solid when using that system. With AFCON being a tournament where unconventional systems can mask deficiencies and propel teams to over-perform, it may be wise for Mannetti to use the 3-5-2 formation against the superior sides his team is about to face.
The Achilles’ Heel
Lack of stardust – Namibia don’t have a lot of stardust in their midst and a lot of players are playing locally or at average clubs in neighbouring South Africa. This may be a call to someone to rise to the occasion, and Benson Shilongo, who plays in Egypt, is one of those very capable. He may have to do it all on his own.
Ismaily’s Benson Shilongo is a striker with explosive finishing and has formed a good reputation for himself since making the move to the Egyptian Premier League. The target man hasn’t always started for the Brave Warriors during qualification but he could trouble most sides in the tournament. Mobile, with a good first touch and emphatic finishing, he has all the raw attributes to lead a line well, as he often does at club level.
The Hipster’s Choice
He’s not the biggest name in the squad – the biggest names are Benson Shilongo and Deon Hotto – but Denzil Hoaseb is an important part of how they defend. Playing as the rightest of the back three or one of the two centre backs, the 32-year-old is a nonsense defender who thrives on one-on-one occasions. He has superb timing in the tackle and, as he’s so often exposed on his side, the speed to recover when outpaced.
The youngest ever player to be capped for Namibia, Ricardo Mannetti has successfully made the transition from the nation’s boy wonder to their coach. Part of their 1998 AFCON side, the man known as ‘Bucksy’ has coached the Brave Warriors for 6 years, the only hiccup a few months where he fell out with the FA before he returned again. If you accept those sums that makes him the longest serving manager at AFCON.
Most definitely a group stage exit. Qualifying for the knockout stages would be nothing short of a miracle.