2 April 2019

Namibia/Botswana: Gladiators Must 'Smash Botswana'

Sports minister Erastus Uutoni on Monday urged the Brave Gladiators to "smash Botswana" when they meet in a preliminary round first leg qualifying match for the 2020 Olympics in Gaborone on Friday.

Uutoni is rooting for the team to overcome their neighbouring rivals and move a step closer to realising their Olympic dream.

"I've seen you play. You're very good," Uutoni said to the team at the NFA Girls Centre yesterday.

"You must go there and smash Botswana. I'm saying this in a football way. You can do it. We are behind you."

The Gladiators will want to take an advantage into the second leg, to be played four days later at the Sam Nujoma Stadium in Windhoek.

Fitness is not a concern this time, unlike on so many previous occasions before crucial international assignments when national selectors had the unenviable burden of working with poorly conditioned players at the eleventh hour.

Regular action in the Skorpion Zinc NFA women's super league this season will ensure that coach Brian Isaacs has a battle- ready unit at his disposal.

"Thanks to Skorpion Zinc for starting this league. It helped us a lot as the coaches didn't have to work on fitness because the players were already fit. We just had to work on tactics," relaxed vice captain Emma Naris said.

The Brave Gladiators head into the encounter as favourites, given their superior ranking over Botswana's Mares.

Namibia are ranked 16th in Africa and 128th globally, while Botswana are 25th and 151st. The winner over the two legs will face South Africa in the second round, while Zambia orZimbabwe will then await in the third round.

Thereafter the fourth before the final round to determine Africa's representative for the2020 Olympic Games. The fifth round losers get a second bite at the cherry in a play-off against against South Americans Chile for a place in Tokyo, Japan.

"We hope to defeat Botswana and go through to the next round, where we will meet South Africa, and continue the fight to qualify for the Olympics. We play at Cosafa [Women's Championships] in about a month's time, and hope to do well there as well," said Naris.

Similarly, Mares head coach Gaoletlhoo Nkutlwisang has high hopes of going past the first round. However, she is worried by the lack of fitness in the team due to a lack of competitiveness in the regional women's football leagues.

"It was a tough assignment to select the team, it is going to be tougher to select the final squad. We want to have quality 23 players for the game," Nkutlwisang told Botswana media.

"I am happy how the players are responding though; we have a mixture of regulars and new players. You cannot question their passion and commitment, but I am worried about their level of fitness, it is low; not yet at competitive match levels," she said.

The travelling Brave Gladiators squad is as follows: Mellissa Matheus, Lydia Eixas, Uerikondjera Kasaona, Lina Katuta, Esther Hamukwaya, Julia Rutjindo, Emma Naris, Lorraine Jossop, Veweziwa Kotjipati, Lovisa Mulunga, Twelikondjele Amukoto, Asteria Angula, Juliana Blou, Millicent Hikuam, Beverly Uueziua, Memory Ngonda, Zenatha Coleman, Kylie van Wyk, Thomalina Adams and Anna-Marie Shikusho.

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