COLLIN Benjamin says elite-level tournament inexperience, coupled with limited cutting edge and misfortune contributed to all three Cosafa representatives losing their opening Africa Cup of Nations matches on Monday.
A depleted Malawi went down 1-0 to Guinea in their group B clash, with Zimbabwe agonisingly falling to tournament favourites Senegal by the same scoreline in the pool's other match.
Malawi, making a third appearance at the finals, and a first since 2010, had 13 members of their squad unavailable, which meant they could only name four players on the bench, which included two goalkeepers.
Comoros' Coelacanths also lost 1-0 to the Panthers from Gabon in a group C clash to compound an underwhelming day for Cosafa nations in Cameroon.
Benjamin, who captained Namibia at the 2008 continental showpiece in Ghana, says while none of the southern African sides were outplayed, their rivals showed big match temperament.
"Nobody wants to lose their opening match, because it becomes an uphill battle. There's no need to drop their heads. They did well. It's a learning curve. They just need to find the balance and manage the games better," Benjamin told The Namibian Sport yesterday.
"The other teams have experience of playing these tournaments on a regular basis. That's a big advantage. Even if you're not playing well, you know how to find a way to get results, just like Senegal did," he said.
Liverpool ace Sadio Mane netted a penalty seven minutes into added time to deliver a fortunate 1-0 over Zimbabwe, while Guinea leftback Issiaga Sylla scored a first-half goal to steer his side to a narrow 1-0 victory.
"They had chances, but they did not take them. For example, Malawi played really well in the first half, but dropped their level in the second. If they can get the second half right, they can still turn things around in their next two games," Benjamin said.
It took something special from Gabon to penetrate the Comoros' defence in the 16th minute. Louis Ameka controlled a long ball from goalkeeper Joel Noel Amonome brilliantly, before setting up Aaron Boupendza, who scored a stunning goal.
Gabon's win sends them to joint top in group C, with Morocco who earlier stopped the Black Stars of Ghana by the same 1-0 margin after Sofiane Boufal hammered home from close range on 83 minutes.
The Comoros will battle Morocco's Atlas Lions next, with Gabon facing Ghana.
Defeat for the Cosafa trio places them under early pressure heading into their next two matches. Only the top two sides automatically qualify for the round of 16. The remaining slots in the second stage will be filled out by the four best third-place finishers
The Flames of Malawi and Zimbabwe's Warriors have the misfortune of being drawn in the same group, and next play each other on Friday.
The winner of that derby will revive their hopes of making it out of the group.
"On paper Zim have the better players, but Malawi have a good attacking unit. So, for me, I'd go for Malawi [to win]," Benjamin predicted.
Guinea will battle Senegal for group supremacy, with the victor guaranteed progression, but neither side looked particularly impressive when up against lesser lights.
The Warriors' tactician, Norman Mapeza, praised his players after they stood toe to toe with the Lions of Teranga.
Disaster struck the gallant underdogs when a shot hit the right arm of Kelvin Madzongwe, and Mane sent goalkeeper Petros Mhari the wrong way with the resulting penalty on 97 minutes to settle a lacklustre affair.
"I think we had some moments where we controlled the game. Luck wasn't on our side. Credit to my boys, I think they worked their socks off. Now we focus on our next game against Malawi," he said.