Namibia/Mali: Namibia’s Amazing Run Continues

THE Brave Warriors’ class of 2024 continued to rewrite the script and astound critics as they became the first Namibian team in history to reach the knockout stages of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) after holding Mali to a goalless draw in San Pedro on Wednesday evening.

Mali, one of the thoroughbred teams on the African continent with an impressive history at Afcon, once again started as heavy favourites, and in fact, had already qualified for the knockout stages, but Namibia rose to the occasion with a spirited and never-say-die display.

With a bit of luck, Namibia, could even have won the match, as Prins Tjiueza’s shot in the 15th minute hit the post, while Peter Shalulile’s effort from the rebound was saved.

More chances were created, as the Warriors went toe-to-toe with Mali, who also had their opportunities, but in the end the two nations battled it out to an enthralling goalless draw.

It was amazing, it was historic, achieved by a team that had once again defied the odds, and at the post match press conference coach Collin Benjamin again paid tribute to his players’ resilience and mental strength.

“At this moment I’m just proud to be Namibian, I’m proud of those players, of their mentality, their character, their hunger and it was just huge what happened today.

“Just a few days ago, we lost a game and for a team that lost 4-0 to bounce back and then achieve this, that is really historic, against a top, top team in Africa, I think we can just talk about character and the mentality of these boys,” he added.

“We created chances, it was dangerous for Mali, it was not easy and I think with a bit of luck, we could have taken the lead, but subsequently it was a good defence, yes, they also had one or two chances, but I think it was really a brilliant game and I think for the spectators it was not a dull 0-0 draw, I think everybody was on their toes and that is what football is about – emotions,” he said.

Benjamin said Namibia’s qualification for the second round was historic, while it also gave renewed hope for the nation.

“Namibia always gets beatings – politically, economically and in a lot of different spheres of our country, so if the Brave Warriors, our soccer team, can bring people together, like they did over the past two weeks, it just shows the power of sport.

“It also shows that as a country, sport unites us and I can tell you, right now, everybody in Namibia has to go to work tomorrow, but they are happy, and every kid, whether it’s a boy or a girl, knows that I’m allowed to dream, it can come true, but I have to work for it – it’s not going to be given to you like that. If they say run 10km, you run 12km, that is the message that this team gave to every Namibian tonight.”

Namibia will now meet their old adversaries, and neighbour, Angola, in the northern Ivorian city of Bouake tomorrow evening, and as usual they will start as the underdogs.

The two nations have met on 12 occasions over the past 30 years and not once has Namibia been on the winning side, with Angola winning six encounters, while six have been drawn. One of those encounters – on 12 February 1998 – also took place at Afcon in Burkina Faso, and it ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw.

Gerros ‘The Bomber’ Urikhob scored two goals and Robert Nauseb one, while that team included several more Namibian legends like Ronny Kanalelo (currently Benjamin’s assistant coach), Benjamin’s predecessor Ricardo Mannetti, Mohammed Ouseb, Bimbo Tjihero, Congo Hindjou, Sandro de Gouveia and Eliphas Shivute.

Interestingly, at Afcon 1998, Namibia also lost 4-0 to South Africa, so what are the chances of another 3-3 draw against Angola, with Peter Shalulile finally finding his goal scoring form with the extra time winner?

After this crazy topsy-turvy ride we’ve had at Afcon 2023 so far, few will want to make predictions, but one thing’s for sure – there will be drama, and lots of it – so fasten your seat belts and let’s hope this magical ride continues.