They fought like true Brave Warriors
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – They came, they fought and, like true Brave Warriors, they conquered and, in the process, they probably scripted the greatest Africa Nations Championships (CHAN) success story ever written in the history of this tournament.
Take a bow Southern Africa. Ricardo Mannetti and his spirited band of Brave Warriors came into the lion’s den, to face a team whose fans have been spoiled by the random slaughter of visitors who have ventured into the National Sports Stadium fortress of late, and somehow found a way to tame the beast in its backyard.
The Zimbabwe Warriors simply do not lose a CHAN qualifying battle. It never happened before and, to the thousands of fans who converged inside the National Sports Stadium last Sunday, it’s something that was never going to happen.
After all, the Warriors never failed to qualify for a CHAN finals tournament since the inaugural tournament in 2009, Cote d’Ivoire.
They never lost a qualifying match, throughout that adventure, until they fell to that 0-1 defeat in Windhoek in the first leg of this first round qualifier.
And, even on the occasions they were held at home, as was the case by Namibia in the very first match of these CHAN qualifiers in 2008 and by Zambia in 2013 – they always found a way to win on foreign soil.
The 1-0 victory at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola in 2013 was such a landmark win because it marked the first time the Zambians had fallen, in their fortress, in a competitive match since 1968.
And the Namibians knew that story well.
After all, the Brave Warriors had come to Harare for their first CHAN battle against the Warriors in 2008 and escaped with a goalless draw at Gwanzura Stadium in the Highfield township of the capital.
That thrust the Namibians as the favourites, ahead of the second leg in Windhoek, but the Zimbabweans went there and defeated their hosts 1-0.
For all their resilience at home in this tournament, including a famous 2-1 win over Zambia and a 3-0 thrashing of Mozambique, the Namibians were not very good travellers and had been hammered by the same scoreline in Maputo and surrendered that lead in Ndola.
And, back then, Namibian football wasn’t in the kind of turmoil that has engulfed in the past year with the domestic top-flight league being frozen as leaders light up the boardroom with their battles for supremacy.
With most of his players virtually inactive for about a year, Mannetti had every reason to fear the worst when they were drawn against Zimbabwe – the team that never lost a CHAN qualifying game and, in the 2014 CHAN finals, had gone all the way to the semi-finals only to lose to eventual champions Libya in a penalty shootout lottery.
The same Zimbabwe team which, among its qualifying victims, was the scalp of South Africa, beaten home and away by the Warriors in a CHAN qualifier with the Zimbabweans scoring three goals and conceding none.
The same Zimbabwean squad, which mesmerised opponents and destroying everything in its way with an attack that saw it score (. goals in six matches.
This was when they won the COSAFA Castle Cup recently in South Africa. Namibia could only make the plate final, a third-tier event, and they still lost that match to South Africa.
And, to make it worse for the Namibians, the Zimbabweans could now call upon the services of a number of 0123 456789 players, who missed the COSAFA Castle Cup tournament because of CAF Champions League commitments, which meant they were going to be an even stronger side.
The last three national teams to come to Harare for football battles – Malawi, Swaziland and Liberia – had all been mercilessly thrashed with the hosts scoring (& goals without conceding a goal.
Swaziland suffered a &-‘ thrashing, Malawi was hit for three and Liberia was also hit for three, with none of them managing to score.
But the indomitable spirit of the Brave Warriors of Namibia prevailed over the Warriors of Zimbabwe and even though the Namibians lost &-( in Harare, they prevailed in the penalty shootout by converting all their five spot-kicks.
“Zimbabwe were the favourites but lacked the kind of spirit that was demonstrated by my side, which featured players that have not known domestic football for over a year because of challenges back home,’’ Mannetti told journalists after his team’s incredible success.
“I think Zimbabwe were better than us. Technically they have very good players. They have more depth than us and also from the match fitness point of view. I count myself fortunate and I am very proud of this achievement that we beat a powerhouse like Zimbabwe.
“That is a very big achievement for Namibia. It’s not every day that you beat a country like Zimbabwe. But over and above that Zimbabwe were better prepared throughout the year than us.
“They had a league running, you had depth and could even drop some players that were at COSAFA to bring in some 0123 456789 players that were playing in the Champions League. We don’t even have clubs playing in the Champions League for that matter.
“So Zimbabwe, individually and as a team, are better than Namibia but when you take it on the day Namibia had a better fight. Namibia wanted it more and I think throughout the two legs, home and away, we wanted it more even though we were playing against a stronger team than us.’’ He said.
Take a bow Southern Africa because it’s stories like this that make football such a very beautiful game.