Despite the aptly-named Brave Warriors early trip home from the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, with just one point from a very tough Group A, Namibian football is clearly on a significant upswing. The man aiming to lead them towards the glory of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, veteran Dutch coach Arie Schans, spoke with African Football Media about the southern African side's emerging stars, lessons learned at the finals in Ghana, why African nations can't reach the last four at a FIFA World Cup and much, much more.
Having taken charge of the national team just two months before the continental finals in Ghana - after Zambian Ben Bamfuchile led them to an unlikely qualification but resigned due to illness - Schans came into the team without much of a chance to prepare and without much experience in African football, just one year as a technical advisor for Mozambique.
But, after a disastrous start to the tournament, a 5-1 reverse against Morocco, the side impressed observers by falling to Ghana 1-0 when they deserved far better and drew Guinea, the third-rated side on the continent, 1-1. The former Bhutan boss, who is due to negotiate a new contract immediately after the tournament, thinks that if his young side can maintain the form of the last two matches, they can go far into qualifying for the next FIFA World Cup.
"We obviously made mistakes in our first game, but after that we settled and did very well," he said. "We showed that if we stay organised we have an interesting team. You know it's a different football world in Namibia than playing in Europe. It's very important for Namibia to play more friendlies against stronger opponents to expose the players to that top level of experience."
Eyes on 2010
It will be a tough task for the coach, who has also worked in China and Japan, with qualifying starting at the end of May. "We've been drawn in a difficult bunch with Guinea again, Zimbabwe and Kenya, and the Guineans will again be the favourite," he said after his team were eliminated in Sekondi. "But, if we take the experience of playing well against these top teams in Ghana, and we can find one or two more players with a little bit more physical presence we could get into the next stage. And with hard work of course, and some luck, you never know."
Alongside the team's only high-profile player, Hamburg's Collin Benjamin, Schans thinks there are a number of youngsters coming through who have demonstrated they have what it takes to produce at a high level. "There's a player, Hartman Toromba, who is a central defender. He was suspended in the first game, and that was one of the reasons we did so badly against Morocco. You can say it's only one player, but he's just the kind of player that reads the game very well and positions his team-mates around him. So after he came back in the team played much better and stayed better organised.
"Our left back Jamu (Jamunovamdu Ngatjizeko) is doing quite well in what is a new position for him," the coach went on. "In the past he played in the midfield, but I saw in him the ability to be a good full back. "
Namibia also have some good options coming through in attack, according to the coach. "Up front in Muna Katupose, who still needs to get stronger and needs more international experience," said Schans. "Also Pineas Jacob, who just signed with a club in South Africa before we left Namibia, is a good option. He's left-footed, and as a forward player that is always something special if they have the skill, which he does. He has a good future."
The coach is also highly complimentary of his Bundesliga-based Benjamin on and off the pitch, as well as his commitment to teaching the young players, calling him "an assistant coach on the field" and "invaluable for the future of Namibian football."
As a relatively new observer to the football scene on the Continent, Schans has an interesting perspective on why the talented teams often struggle against their more illustrious rivals around the world.
"I think in Africa there are many players who prefer to show off their individual strengths instead of thinking about the team," he said frankly. "This is a very dangerous tendency in football because if you are playing an opponent that plays as a good cohesive unit, at the international level, you will not win most of the time."
He also identifies the coaching merry-go-round that has often characterised the continent as a major issue: "It's not good because you never have the time to bring out that cohesiveness," he said. "The only way to do that is to improve, and you have to give coaches the opportunity to work on a team for that to happen, and not after two losses fire them and bring in another coach to do the same thing over again."
If his altogether decent run in the first round of Ghana 2008 is anything go by, coach Schans should well get the chance to put some more of his philosophy into practice when South Africa 2010 qualifiers get rolling.
* Story courtesy of African Football Media (AFM)