Party time in Windhoek, outcry in Harare
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – It was party time in Windhoek as the city celebrated a rare successful sporting weekend but in Harare, the two Zimbabwean national teams that flew to Namibia and both wilted under pressure exerted in the second half charge by their hosts, were not only licking their wounds but crying foul.
In two showdowns of very fine margins, the Namibian rugby national team, the Welwitschias, needed a second half rally, in which they ran four unanswered tries, to beat the spirited Sables of Zimbabwe 31-26 in an explosive Rugby Africa Gold Cup last Saturday.
The following day, the Namibian national football team, the Brave Warriors, also needed a second half goal from crowd favourite Hendrik Somaeb – who is set to move to the Zambian Super Division – to post a shock 1-0 victory over the Warriors of Zimbabwe in the first leg of their African Nations Championships qualifier.
The second leg is set for the National Sports Stadium in Harare on Sunday.
And, while both matches provided a lot of highlights for the neutrals and bragging rights for the hosts, they left a sour taste in the mouth for the losers with both the Zimbabwe rugby and football teams claiming they had been victims of unfair officiating that not only helped the hosts but had a huge bearing on the outcome of the matches.
Zimbabwean rugby fans, who saw their national team surrender a healthy first half advantage before falling by just five runs, turned to Twitter to express their outrage over the way some key decisions, including the decisive try converted by wing Johann Tromp, four minutes from time, which ultimately made the difference, went against them.
“The progress @zimbabwerugby is making is huge . . . 3 (five) point loss away to Namibia, that’s very close . . . it’s one or two hometown calls that wins it,’’ Mufaro MFD Musara’s tweet summed up the mood in this country.
Zimbabwe coach, Cyprian “Super” Mandenge, said he was hurt after watching video replays of that decisive moment amid calls from here for the introduction of Television Match Official system in such important tournaments where a country’s World Cup hopes are on the line.
“I was gutted when I looked at the video again and again. Of course, referees are human and they are prone to make errors but that decision to give a try when there was no contact with the ball was a crucial one and it had huge implications on the game,’’ said Mandenge.
“I also feel the assistant referee was supposed to pick some of the things but somehow he didn’t. But it’s part of the game. We are growing and sometimes we need to go through such pain in order to grow strong.
“We have to move on. The referee’s job is to take charge of the match and ours is to play. We also had our chances that we needed to make use of and we made some mistakes at times. So we would need to work on our errors and come back stronger against Kenya.’’
The Namibian Rugby Union chose to acknowledge the spirited efforts put in by both teams in a pulsating encounter of two halves in which the Sables won the first half while the Welwitschias won the second half.
“Well done to both teams for a nerve-racking match!!’’ the Namibian Rugby Union said on their social media feed.
“Congratulations to the Brave Warriors, beating Zimbabwe 1-0 today! Thanks for supporting the Namibian rugby team yesterday. Great weekend for Namibia!’’
Of course, it was a great weekend for the Namibians and while the rugby team was expected to beat their Zimbabwean counterparts, the football team wasn’t and went into their showdown against the Warriors as the underdogs.
The Zimbabweans had not only won the recent COSAFA Castle Cup in style, scoring 19 goals at the tournament, including seven in the semi-final and final, but they had never lost a CHAN qualifier in history.
The Warriors had won 11 and drawn five of their 16 CHAN qualifiers in a tournament they have qualified for every final since its introduction in 2008.
But, amid an outpouring of explosive patriotism from the buoyant Namibians, which saw thousands of fans coming to support the Brave Warriors, the hosts found the character to inflict the first CHAN qualifying defeat on the Zimbabweans.
Although Namibia face a backlash in Harare at the National Sports Stadium, which the Warriors and their fans have turned into their fortress with the team playing in the AFCON qualifiers scoring 10 goals and conceding none in their last three matches there, the Brave Warriors coach Ricardo Mannetti chose to enjoy the sweetness of his team’s victory over the Zimbabweans.
“I can’t be greedy and ask for more. This victory was long overdue and when Somaeb scored, I prayed and hoped that Zimbabwe don’t spoil the brilliant goal and the memorable occasion for all of us,’’ the coach told the Namibian Football Association website.
“We played well today and got the result, we now have to prepare for the second leg and again we remain underdogs and have to play above ourselves again like we did today. They will be at home and have depth and we have to counter that.
“On Thursday, I called on 10,000 to come and see us play but boy was I caught complete off guard. To see so many people gets me very emotional and determined not to disappoint them and when we got the goal, I paused and then celebrated; it was unbelievable how many people were at the stadium.
“It was just incredible and I wanted and prayed for that moment to last until the end. Thank you Namibia.”
But in Harare, the Warriors team management felt hard done by the Malawian referee’s decision to rule out a first-half effort by big striker Francesco Zekumbawire which they felt should have stood.
“It wasn’t a fair call by the referee and it changed the course of the match,’’ Zimbabwe team manager Wellington Mpandare said.