Excitement builds for Mali clash

ELUSIVE … Deon Hotto slips a pass past Sphephelo Sithole. Photo: Helge Schütz

EXCITEMENT is building for Namibia’s final group match against Mali at San Pedro tonight, with coach Collin Benjamin and captain Peter Shalulile both in an upbeat mood at a pre-match press conference yesterday.

Although their 4-0 defeat to South Africa (SA) was a reality check after their euphoric 1-0 victory against Tunisia, Namibia still have a chance to reach the knockout stages of the tournament, and Benjamin said they are excited and looking forward to the Mali match.

“It’s a very important game. If you look at what’s now happening at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), it’s so exciting, it’s what we all anticipated it to be – the most exciting Afcon that we’ve had. We are playing against a very good team with a good structure organisation, and the good thing about it is that we have a chance to go to the next round and write history for our country. So we are looking forward to this game.”

Benjamin said they have put the SA result behind them.

“After the SA game, the guys were defeated, they were disappointed, because they know they can do better, but that penalty killed us. But since then, we have travelled, we changed base, it’s a new scene, it’s another climate. Yesterday, we analysed that game, but now it’s behind us, we are not even thinking about it anymore. Then the other results came in and obviously we drew inspiration from them and the fact that it’s in our own hands, makes it so beautiful and we are looking forward to it,” he said.

“I think the boys have re-psyched themselves, they see the opportunity, they see the chance and the determination is just like the first day and tomorrow we are going to see the attacking team of Namibia.

“The hopes of an entire nation now rest on them, so nothing has changed, the boys are still hungry, they want to go out there and represent our country and do their best,” he added.

Shalulile said they hoped to do well against Mali.

“Mali is a good team and they are the favourites. It has been an amazing tournament, you could see the underdogs doing good, so far it’s all ups and downs and we are hoping to pitch up and to do our best,” he said.

“As for us Namibians, there’s not really pressure, but we take it one game at a time and we just want to pitch up and give it our best and make sure that we get a good result against Mali to go through to the next round,” he added.

Benjamin said he wasn’t too sure about the mathematical equations of their chances of reaching the second round.

“I tried to do some mathematical calculations, but I realised that I was not good at maths at school, so I’ll let it slide and I don’t know what’s happening there. All I know is that we have to have a good game, we have to collect points and the good thing is that it’s in our hands, so we are not looking at what our rivals or opponents are doing. But it’s a beautiful thing, it’s in our own hands, and that’s what’s motivating us,” he said.


Benjamin said the tournament was still wide open.

“It’s better that you lose 4-0 once, than if you lose 1-0 four times. That game is behind us now and the good thing is that even the Ivory Coast, who also have three points and a 4-0 defeat, even they can still go through to the next round, and that’s what makes this tournament so beautiful. So we have it in our hands, we don’t have to pray, of course we are Christians, but we are going to do the work on the field,” he said.

Benjamin said it will be a huge showdown against Mali.

“This match against Mali is going to be huge – Namibia the underdogs, Namibia’s energy, Namibia always have a scoring opportunity, so we are looking forward to the game and it’s a good platform for our boys.

If you look at Malian football, the RedBull Academy and all their academies, where they get these young players. Now imagine if a young Namibian player runs his heart out, and has a good game against Mali’s national team, then maybe even Tottenham Hotspur will come for him,” he said.

Shalulile must still open his goalscoring account at Afcon 2023 but he said he wasn’t worried about it.

“First of all, it’s not only about me, we are a team where anyone can score goals. As a striker you always want to score goals, so if not today or tomorrow, it will come again and these stages where things don’t go well will pass. Even the best players in Europe all go through this, but they eventually come back and score a lot of goals. So as for strikers, it’s just a phase that you have to go through, but it’s a process that you have to deal with.”

He said it was an honour to represent his country.

“Everyone is always honoured and proud to represent their country at such a tournament. We are the best 23-man squad that was selected to represent Namibia. We’ve come along way together with the coach as well and the brotherhood in the team united us and made it possible to work together as one. What happens at the club level is not the same as what happens here. Here it’s more about brotherhood, because you have grown with these players over many years, and we are just a happy, blessed and awesome team,” he said.

Benjamin also paid tribute to the Ivory Coast for organising a fantastic tournament.

“I honestly want to applaud the government of the Ivory Coast under the leadership of president Alassane Ouattara for this lovely tournament. The infrastructure, the resources they put in here, wow, it’s crazy, and it’s really something we have to applaud and obviously the Confederation of African Football for organising this world-class event that we as Africans can be proud of. “Whatever happens, I think this is the best and it creates a good base for everyone else who will follow, so our continent guys, it’s growing, and its a beautiful time to be alive,” he said.

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