Football Review – From Afcon bliss to BA woes

Peter Shalulile in action for Namibia against Cameroon. File photo

THE football gods afforded Namibia a reasonable measure of good fortune this year.

Arguably, the Brave Warriors’ qualification to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, which kicks off next month in Ivory Coast, ranks as the standout development over the past 12 months.

Then there is the fact that domestic league football remains operational for a second successive season, a feat not to be scoffed at given the fractured and incoherent football landscape over the past decade.

Also, a newly elected Namibia Football Association (NFA) leadership in November brought an end to the tenure of the second Fifa Normalisation Committee that the country has had in just four years.

However, the infighting at fallen giants Black Africa (BA) could spark another unsavoury episode for Namibian football. Or perhaps the effervescence that premiership first-timers Chula Chula have brought endures and rubs off on the warmongers.

BRAVE WARRIORS

When Collin Benjamin took over the substantive head coach duties last year, his primary objective was to rebuild an ageing team while being competitive.

It is safe to say, he appears to be on track on both fronts after a win, two draws and a defeat ensured his under-appreciated Warriors reached the continental showpiece tournament.

The Warriors also earned a nomination for team of the year at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Awards for their efforts.

The pivotal moment of the qualifiers came in March when holding five-time Afcon winners Cameroon 1-1 away and then beating them 2-1 at home, which has been South Africa for the past three years.

If Namibia are to end their long awaited winless run at Afcon, then skipper Peter Shalulile is likely to play an important role.

Only Nigerian marksman Victor Osimhen (10 goals) and Senegal superstar Sadio Mane (5) scored more than Shalulile (4) during the qualifiers in which he found the back of the net in all Namibia’s matches.

Unlike his west African rivals whose teams are stacked with world renowned support casts, the Namibian captain has to scrap for goals in a side with considerably substantially weaker quality overall, which is a mark of just how efficient and dangerous he is.

The irrepressible forward was one of three stars shortlisted for this year’s CAF Interclub Player of the Year award, given his stellar form for South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

Despite being plagued by injury, he scored six goals in the CAF Champions League competition and was instrumental in Sundowns’ run in the competition that dramatically ended in the semi-finals against Wydad Athletic Club.

Shalulile played just once in the new lucrative African Football League but still scored an important goal in the second-leg of the final to help Sundowns beat Wydad Casablanca of Morocco to glory.

Besides his goal scoring prowess, Shalulile possesses an incredible ability of playing from deep and connecting with his midfielders to give his teammates increased chances of scoring.

His exceptional form earned him a place among the top three players on the continent.

GALLANT GLADIATORS

The Brave Gladiators nearly pulled off a stunning qualification for the 2024 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, falling agonisingly short at the final hurdle.

A spirited Namibia stunned Ghana 1-0 in their final round second leg clash in Pretoria but needed another goal to seal their spot, having gone down 3-1 during the first leg in Accra.

Nonetheless, the Gladiators will take a lot of heart from pushing the Black Queens, one of the leading football nations on the continent, close, which also marked a first defeat in 11 outings for Ghana.

Before their Wafcon near miss, the Gladiators also competed admirably in the Olympic qualifiers but came up short against Morocco, who reached the round of 16 at the Fifa Women’s World Cup in August.

Namibia eased past Gambia 5-2 on aggregate to set up a clash with Morocco, who subsequently beat the Gladiators 4-0 over two legs.

The Gladiators fought hard in both clashes but the north Africans’ superior squad strength told in the end.

The impressive performance in the qualifiers was preceded by a lukewarm showing at the Cosafa Cup, where Namibia failed to advance from the pool stages.

Minus a number of key personnel, including the influential Zenatha Coleman, the Gladiators lost to Zimbabwe, drew with Botswana and beat Lesotho.

Coleman, who plies her trade in Türkiye with Fenerbache, also featured among 30 nominees in the CAF Player of the Year award.

NEW DAWN

The nation remains hopeful that the new NFA executive council led by Robert Shimooshili can foster harmony and cohesion to provide the necessary foundation for the game, and most importantly the players, to flourish.

However, early signs are that the deep divisions that caused football to ground to a halt remain, with the Normalisation Committee having done little to help quell the animosity.

Tensions remain high and distrust continues to fester. A case in point is at BA, the most decorated club in Namibia, where the battle for the club’s soul and identity has left it on the verge of ruin.

Relegated to the second-tier at the end of last season, the club is yet to kick a ball in the Southern Stream First Division due to two warring factions who show up to matches with separate sets of players.

The basis for their toxic feud is entrenched in the long and bitter countrywide administrative power struggle which resulted in Fifa twice installing Normalisation Committees.

Shimooshili and his executive’s detractors are already blaming the NFA for BA’s unresolved internal issues.

The new NFA president, whose beloved Blue Waters was also divided during the dark period, has offered to mediate while imploring the unrepentant factions to “be mature” and amicably remedy their differences.

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