By Robson Sharuko
Harare Their previous battle ended in controversy, which spilled into the corridors of the Confederation of African Football, but just four months after all that spectacular fallout, the strength of their sisterly bond – which has given them identical nicknames in this game will be celebrated this weekend with another showdown in Windhoek.
Namibia’s Brave Warriors, preparing for their maiden appearance at the African Nations Championships finals in Morocco next January, host the Zimbabwe Warriors in a high-profile win- ner-take-all football contest for the Dr Hage Geingob Cup at the Sam Nujoma Stadium.
This is the fourth edition of the Dr Hage Geingob Cup, which is held to celebrate the Namibian President legacy, and organisers this year have switched to a high-profile showdown against two Southern African countries who both call themselves Warriors on the football field.
The match is being played on a weekend set aside for FIFA international matches, giving both countries to call their best players for the showdown, unlike the last time when they met in the battle for the CHAN finals given this tournament is only reserved for players who ply their trade in their local leagues.
The Zimbabweans were the favourites when the two Southern African nations in the 2018 CHAN qualifiers given the War- riors had qualified for every finals of the tournament since its inaugural edition in 2009 in Cote d’Ivoire.
With the local top-flight league in Namibia in limbo and the champions of the Zimbabwe Premiership, CAPS United, showing the strength of the top-flight league in the country by knocking out five-time African champions TP Mazembe in the CAF Champions League, the good money was on the Warriors eliminating the Brave Warriors.
However, the Brave Warriors punched above their weight and turned on the style to beat their opponents 1-0 in Windhoek before going down by a similar score line in the return leg in Harare at the National Sports Stadium where their resilience was tested and they came out with full colours.
With the match having spilled into the penalty shootout lottery, which are a brutal test of the char- acter of players, it was the Namibians who held their nerve in that showdown as they converted all their spot- kicks to win the match.
However, a cheeky penalty con- version by Dynamos Fredericks, in which he appeared to break stride after his run-up, to deceive the goalkeeper, sparked a lot of con- troversy with the Zimbabwean football leaders lodging a com- plaint with CAF for the match to be replayed.
CAF responded by suspending Swazi referee Thulani Sib- andze and assistant ref-
eree Petros Mbingo for failing to execute their duties well in that match, when they failed to spot that Fredericks’ spot-kick had been outlawed by recent changes to the Laws of the Games, but the continent’s football governing body refused to overturn the result of the match.
Now, four months down the line, the two nations clash again on the foot- ball field with the Warriors bringing a stronger side set to feature some of the players they recruited from their Brit- ish Brigade – a group of professionals who had never been to Zimbabwe since their birth but had now chosen to com- mit themselves to their motherland.
“These are professionals, it’s everything they have known all their lives because they have grown up in a very professional environment where football is big business,” Marshall Gore, the London-based Zimbabwean who has been working around the clock to secure the services of these players told The Southern Times.
“The good thing is that they were given a rousing welcome when they arrived at Harare International Airport and that made them feel very much at home and now they can concentrate on making an impression on the field.
“You have a player who was playing for an English Premiership club just a few months ago and one who was signed by the Scottish champions Celtic recently because they believe he has so much potential he could be a big hit in a few years’ time and that should tell you the quality that has come into the ranks of this Zimbabwe squad.”
Teenage midfielder Kundai Benyu impressed Celtic so much they ended up paying more than $5 million to secure his services in July this year amid inter- est from other top clubs in the English Premiership who have been monitoring his progress.
Tendayi Darikwa was on the books of English Premiership side Burnley in July before he switched clubs to join his hometown club Nottingham Forest in the second-tier English Championship.
The Warriors are preparing for the their 2019 AFCON qualifiers, which resume in March next year, hoping to build up on their excellent open- ing weekend 3-0 win over Liberia in Harare in June.
The Brave Warriors have set them- selves the target of reaching the group stages at their maiden appearance at the CHAN finals.
“The 2017 Dr. Hage Geingob Cup have added significance in the sense that it will be used to accord our national team, the Brave Warriors who are African Nations Championship finals bound, an opportunity to strut their stuff and thoroughly prepare for the tournament in January in a country still to be determined by the Confed- eration of African Football,” Namibia Football Association President Frans Mbidi said in his address at the launch of the Dr Hage Geingob Cup.
“The 2017 spectacle of this prestig- ious competition, will see our Brave Warriors face the Warriors of Zim- babwe in an international friendly on exactly a month from now, 11 November in Windhoek, an encounter which will be a category A FIFA friendly game.”
Ricardo Mannetti, the Namibian coach, also talked about the Zimba- bweans.
“On paper they look stronger, they are bringing in players from England and South Africa and for me it’s not a problem,’’ he said.
“We want to give the CHAN players as much game time as possible. But we also still want to do well and win the Cup. The pressure is on Zimbabwe to come to the party. We are the underdog and we will work our socks off.”