Namibian Men Face Tough Task At Olympics Qualifier

Namibia's men's hockey team faces a tough task when they compete against Africa's best at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament from 12 to 18 August in Stellenbosch, South Africa for a spot at the 2020 Olympic Games.

With only the winning nation qualifying for the Olympics, Namibia will start as the underdogs, since they are ranked second last amongst the seven competing nations.

Namibia is currently ranked 68th in the world and will compete in Pool B against Egypt (ranked 20th), Ghana (36th) and Zimbabwe (61), while Pool A will be contested by South Africa (ranked 14th), Kenya (48), Nigeria (57) and Uganda who are unranked.

The top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout stages with the overall winner qualifying for next year's Olympics.

The Namibian selectors recently announced a very young squad for the tournament, with 11 of the 17 players still under 21 years of age.

The youngest member in the squad is Saints goalkeeper Richter van Rooyen, who is only 15 years old, while it includes several other school boys, mostly from the domestic champions, Saints, who have swept all aside them over the past year.

They are the Hansen brothers Dakota and Fagan, Nico Neethling, Cody van der Merwe and Owen Hatton, while David Britz of DTS is also still at school.

The 23-year-old Ernest Jacobs, who plays for the University of Johannesburg, will captain the team, while 28-year-old DTS goal keeper DJ Strauss is the vice captain.

The only other players in their mid twenties are Lenard Fick (27), Brynn Cleak (26) and Rory Hammond (26), while the experienced 35-year-old Siabonga Martins has been dropped from the squad and is amongst the non-travelling reserves.

Coach Trevor Cormack on Wednesday said he was putting his faith in the youth.

"Our preparations have gone well and I have no doubt that they are ready. They are the future of Namibian hockey so it doesn't help taking older players. I'm putting my faith in them and this tournament will also help prepare them for next year's qualifiers for the 2021 Indoor World Cup," he said.

Cormack, however, added that they faced a tough task.

"I think we got the most difficult pool, but if we want to make progress we will have to play the top teams. Egypt are the favourites - they trounced us in December last year, while Ghana have improved a lot and regularly compete against Egypt. The last time we played Zimbabwe we drew, so I think Egypt should win our pool, while the battle will be for the other semifinal spot," he said.

In December last year Namibia were thrashed 17-1 by Egypt in an Olympic Games qualifying tournament and drew 3-3 to Zimbabwe and 4-4 to Zambia. Cormack, however, said that Namibia should do better this time.

"I wasn't there, and we didn't have our strongest side, so I think we will do better this time. The boys already proved themselves when we played South Africa in a friendly series at the beginning of June. We only had two weeks to prepare, but we reduced our normal deficit against them from double figures and we showed a lot of improvement," he said.

Namibia lost that series 3-0 with the individual scores being 4-0, 5-0 and 5-0.

The only setback in Namibia's preparations for the Afcon series was the 'emotional stress' of having to fund themselves, according to Cormack.

"The only hiccup we had was the emotional stress of not having enough money to go on tour. The players had to fund themselves with each one having to pay about N$15 000 and it was quite stressful for some, but I think we won't have any casualties," he said.

The Namibian team is as follows:

Ernest Jacobs (captain), DJ Strauss (vice captain), Richter van Rooyen, David Britz, Lenard Fick, Dakota Hansen, Cody van der Merwe, Nico Neethling, Percy Barthram, Dylan Finch, Fagan Hansen, Baggio Kharigub, Owen Hatton, Rory Hammond, Petrus Theron, Nico Jacobs, Brynn Cleak and Liam Hermanus.

Trevor Cormack is the coach and Mary Hansen the team manager.

The non-travelling reserves are Willie Serfontein, Siabonga Martins, Penda Namundjebo and Maatu Kaivikairua.

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