Namibia’s fairy-tale run is over

UNDER PRESSURE … Ngero Katua faces Fredy of Angola.

NAMIBIA’s extraordinary run at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2023 came to an end on Saturday when they lost 3-0 to Angola at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake – a feat declared by the Brave Warriors coach Collin Benjamin as historical.

In a remarkable match, Angola were reduced to 10 men in the 16th minute when their goalie handled the ball outside the box, but Namibia could not capitalise.

The momentum swung to Angola as they stunned Namibia with two goals in two minutes by their dangerous striker Gelson Dala and after Namibian defender Lubeni Haukongo was also sent off, Mabululu finished Namibia off with a third goal midway through the second half.

It was a disappointing exit for Namibia, who wasted a great opportunity to go further in the tournament, but credit must go to Angola who dug deep and were worthy winners. They now retain their remarkable unbeaten record against Namibia stretching over 30 years, now consisting of seven wins and six draws.

As usual, Namibia started off on the attack with Deon Hotto and Riaan !Hanamub putting in some dangerous crosses early on, and Namibia nearly took the lead when Muzeu Muzeu raced clear onto a Peter Shalulile throughball and tore down onto Angola’s outrushing keeper, Neblu, who handled the ball outside his box.

Neblu was sent off for his efforts, but despite being one man down, it was Angola who rose to the occasion, and they took a firm grip on the match when Dala ponced with two goals in two minutes.

The first, on 37 minutes, came from a defence-splitting throughball by Gilberto to Fredy, who centred to Dala to tap in from close range.

Barely a minute later, disaster struck for Namibia when Haukongo picked up his second yellow card to be sent off and Angola immediately capitalised when Dala rose high to head home from the resulting freekick.

Namibia came out attacking in the second half with Shalulile, Ngero Katua and Aprocius Petrus all getting opportunities, but shooting over the bar, while Deon Hotto was relentless with his constant pressing on Angola’s defence.

Angola, however, absorbed the pressure and struck the killer blow on 65 minutes when Mabululu ran onto a throughball and beat Namibian keeper Lloyd Kazapua with a perfect shot that bent into the far corner.

With that, Angola sealed the match and it was nearly 4-0 when Zito hit the crossbar in injury time.

At the post match press conference, Benjamin said the sending off of Neblu played a big role in the outcome of the match.

“We started off very good, you could see the intention of the team, but then the turnaround came when the Angolan keeper was sent off. In my heart and my experience with football, that is a situation that you don’t want and I was actually hoping that it would not happen, because after that, and you could see it, the mind then tells you, oh we are one guy up and then everybody automatically gives two or three percent less. So if you have 10 guys playing at three percent less that makes 30% less and at this level you will not be able to beat any team if you don’t give 100% but that’s not intentional, it’s basically just the soccer lessons that you are taught,” he said.

“Then we went 1-0 down, then our mentality went down, then it became 2-0 and then 3-0, so we have to congratulate Angola, but as a Namibian, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we have to keep our heads up and we have to look forward. If you just think about it tomorrow morning, you are going to realise that it took us 26 years to record our first victory at Afcon and we came into the knockout stage for the first time, so we have to take it step by step.

“We can be disappointed, it’s normal, but it’s a lesson that we have to learn from, that just gives us the opportunity to say we have to go back and we have to start working again but heads up,” he said.

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