Namibia: Warriors Rise From Rubble

Nmaibia's football structures effectively lie in ruins, but you would have been forgiven for thinking otherwise on Saturday when watching the Brave Warriors saunter to a place at next year's African Nations Championship.

Namibia beat Madagascar 2-0 with relative ease at the Sam Nujoma Stadium to close out the tie 2-1 on aggregate, and seal a third consecutive qualification to a Confederation of African Football (CAF) tournament.

The Brave Warriors will appear at back-to-back Chan finals, hoping to build on their remarkable debut run to the quarter-finals in Morocco last year, while they also played at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt this year.

All this while an administrative war, which again has resulted in the grounding of all competitive domestic football, rages on.

"I'm thrilled. The team motivates us to keep going. There are some things we are doing right. So, when your team qualifies, notwithstanding the challenges, it is wonderful, and we are really excited about this qualification," Fifa Normalisation Committee chairperson Hilda Basson Namundjebo told The Namibian Sport on Monday.

"Rigorous discipline and forward planning. Doing the basics right. People feel a sense of earning the privilege of playing for the Brave Warriors. There's no entitlement. I see that hunger in the players, really trying to impress and be counted on is what got the team over the line," she explained.

Featuring at continental competitions should become a habit for the Brave Warriors, she added.

"That's how I'd like to see football in Namibia go, that we have frequent qualification. And then when we qualify, we must improve on our performances. It's fantastic. It's an achievement that is in line with the way we see football," Basson Namundjebo said.

Against the backdrop of an asphyxiating football landscape, the buoyant Brave Warriors overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit with two sumptuous strikes from unheralded Mighty Gunners 'centre-forward Elmo Kambindu either side of half-time, sparking delirium inside and beyond the stadium terraces.

"As a fan, I'm so happy that we didn't have to wait a long time to qualify again. The players who qualified us before helped us a lot in terms of their mentality and character," said former head coach Ricardo Mannetti.

He commended his successor Bobby Samaria for emulating his crop in leading the team to another tournament amid trying times, and backed the team to continue the trend.

The Brave Warriors also qualified for the 2018 Chan without the aid of an active league, caused by warring football bosses.

"As a former coach, I'm really proud for handing over a team with a lot of depth in all positions. Because the last thing a new coach wants is to start all over again, and that would automatically mean the previous coaching staff was short-sighted," said Mannetti of the seamless transition.

"I want to congratulate the coach, his staff, the players and the entire NFA on qualifying us again for Chan. It was not an easy task, but they pulled through, and should be applauded for that.

"I believe that we have a strong enough team and a very capable coaching staff to even qualify us for the next Afcon."

Despite their qualification, the Brave Warriors' troubles refuse to go away.

One of the main drawbacks is that the Namibia Premier League, from which the Chan team is exclusively drawn, remains suspended, even after last week's "positive" talks between the top flight's hierarchy and the Normalisation Committee.

"The infighting is not doing us any good. We should be a united front, directing our energy into the game. The players are suffering while the people running football get their salaries monthly, which is totally unfair and unacceptable," commented NFA Women's Football chairperson Monica Shapua.

"Football belongs to the players, and we owe that to them. How do we want to have a professional set-up, yet we are failing the basics? If we can all put our egos aside and focus, we can go far with football in this country."

The Chan tournament is scheduled to take place in Cameroon between January and February. Unless a lasting solution to the NPL debacle is found soon, Samaria will have a daunting task on his hands to keep his charges competitive, let alone be able to call upon reinforcements, until the tournaments kicks off.

"So, let's say we [are only able to] play premier league football next year, it impacts the Brave Warriors and all our national teams. What do we do? We have to have them ready. There's World Cup qualification, there's Afcon, etc," Basson Namundjebo observed.

"Bobby will have to come up with a development strategy, him and his technical team, to keep these guys playing football as if we had an active premier league."

Another significant impediment is arguably the Achilles' heel of Namibian sports. The scarce finances' issue, which has already accounted for the national under-17 men and women's sides not being part of recent Cosafa competitions, is threatening the Brave Warriors' participation at Chan.

"We have been playing Chan and World Cup qualifiers without the government's support. The money is not there. It's just working very tight with every cent that keeps us participating," said Basson Namundjebo.

"There are huge costs attached to this team performing. Chan will be a challenge, and that's one of the big discussions that we'll have quickly as the Normalisation Committee.

"We need money to send them to Chan. So, the government must pronounce itself and say, 'are we going to fund?' Because on our own, unless the corporate sector comes to the table in a big way, we can't sustain the Brave Warriors at the level which they are playing," she continued.

"But as a country, we need our team at Chan. We all know what this qualification did for this country at the weekend. It really lifted the spirits of the nation. We can't not play, we have to play.

We just have to find ways to fund it, because the funding is really a challenge at the moment."

The funding problem will continue to have negative implications on the country's sports until the industry is taken seriously.

"How can we want to compete in continental competition with giants while we are not investing, and expect our team to do well?

"The government should start prioritising sports as a tool to drive and create employment. If you look at our budget for sports, youth and national services, it tells you that this area is neglected," Shapua stressed.

"Nevertheless, we qualified, and we march on. I hope funding would be made available early so that we start to prepare properly. We cannot continue to do things in reverse by making money available close to departure, instead of putting it there for training purposes and friendlies ahead of the competitions, like other countries do."

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