Brave Warriors under fire mentor Ricardo Mannetti, made his critiques sit and eat humble when his tactical acumen propelled the Namibian senior football team, the Brave Warriors to a hard fought come from behind 2-1 win against hosts Mozambique, on Saturday.
Mannetti made a bold decision by leaving talisman Deon Hotto-Kavendjii out of his starting lineup for the do-or-die 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against the Mambas of Mozambique in Maputo in front of a hostile home crowd.
Going into the match perched in the bottom of the four team Group K log table with just one point acquired from a possible six, Namibia needed nothing less than victory and Mannetti and his soldiers were fully aware of the task at hand.
It was contest of two contrasting halves with the hosts running rings around the visitors in the opening half but the Warriors came back strongly after the restart, following a thorough tongue lashing from the coaching staff.
After a see-saw-affair in the first half dominated by unforced stray passes, jittery, over hastiness punctuated by clear lack of confidence - the Warriors started to play with purpose following the introduction of Sadney Uri-Khob, replacing Benson Shilongo, at the resumption.
Ahead of the match, Namibia was the only side on a single point in the group but are not equal with Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Zambia on four points apiece.
Namibia found themselves on the back foot when Sitoe headed in from close range with a little bit of deflection from Petrus Shitembi's attempted clearance after the ball watching Namibian defence failed to clear their lines from a corner kick (1-0) with 25 minutes gone on the clock.
The visitors started to pay frequent inroads into the Mozambican danger zone and lanky striker Pikes Shalulile should have done better when he found himself one on one with the goalkeeper - only for his weak attempt to be thwarted by the Mambas shot stopper.
Arguably, Namibia's most outstanding player on the field, mercurial midfielder Shitembi, redeemed himself when he masterfully stroke the ball home from a cleverly executed Shalulile cut back to draw the teams level (1-1)
The goal seemed to be just what the doctor has ordered as the Namibian started to grow in confidence, laying siege on the tiring host's defence with brutal counter attacks.
Overlapping fullback Rian Hananub, had a clear sight on goal with five minutes remaining - but the skillful fullback could not utilise the goal scoring opportunity presented to him.
With the score still level at 1-all and the match destined for a stalemate - Mannetti threw his trump card in the shape of Hotto-Kavendjii, withdrawing Tigers target man Abes Iimbondi and the Bidvest Wits University forward wasted little time to announce his presence on the field.
The former African Stars speedy winger picked the back in his own half zigzagging his way past a cluster of defenders before he unleashed his trademark long-range cracker from way outside the 18-metre area.
In essence, Hotto has absolutely no right to hit the back of the net from that range but such was the ferocity of the delivery that the butter-fingered Mozambican goalie could do little to stop the ball from kissing the back of the net, sparking wild celebrations from the Namibian bench - much to the dismay of the home crowd.
At the other end, Kaizer Chiefs agile goalie Virgil Vries, comfortably gathered a goal bound strike from Elias Pelembe's free kick. Lady luck also played her hand, with both Hoaseb and Ketjijere dangerously lucky to finish the match as the pair miraculously escaped crystal clear-book-able offenses that could have resulted in marching orders.
Strangely, the match referee allowed three more minutes in addition to the three minutes added time but this has limited effect as that oak door of the Namibian defence held on for dear life.
The hard fought victory lifted Namibia to joint top spot on the log table after three rounds of matches that see all four nations locked on four points apiece from the same number of matches and ironically with the same point difference.
Namibia last appeared at the continental showpiece in Accra, Ghana in 2008 and history could repeat itself again as the Warriors seem to have embarked on a ten-year circle since making their maiden appearance Burkina Faso, in 1998.
On both occasions, the Warriors defied the odds to come out unscathed from two crucial matches away from home against Kenya and Ethiopia respectively. The Warriors welcome Mozambique with their tails up in the back-to-back return leg of the AFCON Qualifiers at the Sam Nujoma stadium in Windhoek tomorrow 19h00.
Tickets for the potential AFCON Qualifier are up for N$50 at Computicket outlets and can also be obtained from NFA Football House. The Warriors next assignment is a home clash against Guinea Bissau next month before traveling to Zambia to confront the Chipolopolo in March, next year.
All group winners and runner-ups earn automatic qualification for the 32nd edition of the extended month long biannual Total AFCON finals to be hosted by reigning African champions Cameroon from 15 June next year.
Warriors starting lineup against Mozambique on Saturday: Virgil Vries, Tebs Lombard, Denzil Haoseb, Riaan Hananub, Junior Gebhardt, Petrus Shitembi (Batista-Gome) Stigga Ketjijere (capt) Abes Iimbondi (Hotto-Kavendjii) Awillo Stephanus, Benson Shilongo (Uri-Khob) Pikes Shalulile.