Namibia: Lessons Learnt At AFCON

Despite finishing bottom in both the men and women's sections at the Afcon Hockey Qualifiers in Stellenbosch last week, there were a lot of positives to take from the tournament.

Especially the young men's team was one of the revelations of the tournament, with DJ Strauss winning the goalie of the tournament award, while they certainly made the other teams sit up and take notice.

Namibia got off to a great start with a fine display against South Africa before going down 3-1 in their opening match.

South Africa went on to win the tournament after beating Egypt 3-2 in the final on Sunday, and Namibia's performance against them was in fact one of the best throughout the tournament, as South Africa beat Zimbabwe 9-0, Ghana 9-1 and Kenya 4-0 in their other group matches. Namibia, however, could not sustain their fine start and lost 3-1 to Ghana, 6-1 to Egypt and 3-1 to Kenya, while drawing 2-2 to Zimbabwe.

Namibia's men's coach Trevor Cormack said a lot of lessons had been learnt.

"The performance from our young guns was very commendable, but it's sad that we finished last at Afcon. We were all over Kenya from the start, but we couldn't take advantage of our opportunities and let in two soft goals, so it's clear that we need to tighten up and take our chances," he said.

"The Zimbabwe draw was very disappointing. We started off very slowly and I think the boys were a bit nervous and they couldn't finish off their moves and let in two silly goals. I think they were a bit inexperienced and we must now regroup and fix our mistakes, but at least we now know what needs to be fixed," he added.

Cormack added that after their opening performance against South Africa, they became a marked team.

"We got a great result against South Africa and to hold the eventual African champions to such a low score was very satisfying, but after that our performances were quite disappointing. I wouldn't say we over exerted ourselves in that game, I'd rather say the result boosted the boys, but then we were put on the radar and none of the other teams underestimated us," he said.

"We were the talk of the tournament, but we couldn't convert our opportunities into results. But it was our best ever performance at Afcon and a vast improvement on our previous Afcon tournaments, although all the other countries have also improved," he added.

Most of the goals that Namibia conceded were from set pieces and Cormack said that area let them down.

"Our push out was too slow. We had concentrated a lot on perfecting the drag flick, but the push out and stops are the most important elements at the short corner and it was clear that we didn't work enough on that."

With most of the players still under 21 years of age, and the under 21 World Championship qualifiers coming up next year, Cormack said he was excited about the future.

"I'm excited about our u21 team - we had 10 of them in our senior squad and I'm eager to see how they will do at the World Championship qualifiers next year. Maybe the purpose of the Afcon tournament was rather to help prepare our u21's for next year's qualifiers," he said.

Namibia's women also finished last after losing all their matches. They lost 1-0 to Kenya, 3-0 to Ghana, 3-2 to Zimbabwe and 5-0 to the eventual champions, South Africa.

Namibia's coach, Erwin Handura said their finishing let them down.

"I think we played very well, but our finishing let us down. Against Ghana for instance, we had 10 penalty corners but we couldn't score. I'd say we played better than them as well as Zimbabwe and Kenya, but we could not score," he said.

According to Handura, the team was not optimally prepared, mainly due to the lack of a functioning local league.

"Your national team is only as strong as your national league, but we haven't started a national field league yet this year and the only players who were really sharp were the learners, because they have played a lot of school league matches, while they also played tournaments in South Africa, but the seniors hardly played at all.

"We need to have a national league running from June every year, but as long as the hockey union does not have an artificial turf we are at the mercy of the schools, because the schools book their facilities first and the union only gets to use it at odd hours, even for national training, which was very frustrating," he said.

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