A run of just a single loss in their last nine internationals, which includes a scoreless draw with African champions Zambia, suggests Namibia’s development policy is now beginning to bear fruit. But the Brave Warriors begin the group stage of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ with the trickiest of challenges, a test which kicks off a busy period of matches that will go some way to determining their next two years.
The situation alone must have some heaped some pressure on Bernard Kaanjuka’s young team, who will meet highly ranked and desperate-for-success Nigeria in their opening Group F game in Calabar in a fortnight. The southern Africans continue down the road to Brazil 2014 when they host Kenya’s Harambee Stars in Windhoek a week later on 9 June, and they also host the return leg of their CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on the 15th against Liberia, who have a narrow 1-0 lead from February's first leg in Monrovia.
Three vital contests in 12 days is a great test for the side, who have reached the continental finals twice but have never threatened a run at the world's showpiece event. Kaanjuka, who suffered his first defeat in seven matches as coach of the side against the Lone Stars, wants his team to work hard in the moment but keep expectations for the future. “Admittedly, we are in a tough group, and for us the priority is still trying to build up a team that we hope is going to produce results in the future,” he explained exclusively for FIFA.com.
“Next month will give us a chance to see how we match up against the big teams and also give our boys some really good experience of playing against top players. But for us, there is no talk about qualifying for the World Cup just yet, rather to go out and learn how to play against quality opposition, who have lots of experience and from whom we can learn some valuable lessons,” he said.
Kaanjuka says Namibia still long to produce a side similar to that which qualified for the 1998 African finals in Burkina Faso. That generation is regarded as the best yet in the country’s relatively short international footballing history. “If you look at the way they started to gain momentum as they went along, it is the same now with my team.” Kaanjuka has come up with many of his charges through the ranks of Namibian football, all the way from U-17 and U-20 level through to the U-23 Olympic side and now the senior team. “I’d say 90 per cent of the team have been through the process, so it’s a side with a good developmental basis. These boys are fast learners.”
As part of that continuing process, a 22-man squad are in Germany for a 10-day training camp at Kamen-Kaiserau. They have fixed a preparatory game with fellow southern African side Mozambique in Wuerzburg on 26 May. Mozambique are also preparing in Germany at the same time. Namibia will then travel directly from Germany to Nigeria for the big match with the four-time FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Aiming for the big birds
Kaanjuka says his philosophy is to take pressure off his team and leave worrying about results to the coaching staff. “I tell them to go out and enjoy themselves, stick to the plans and the tactics but don't get worried about the result. Particularly against an experienced side like Nigeria, we don’t want the players to be overawed. They must feel they just need to go out and do their best,” he explained.
At the same time, Kaanjuka, who took over last July, insists his team will be no pushovers. “You can forget about that!” he said. “No, no, not this team. We are not going to roll over for anyone.” And at that point it becomes clear that the coach's philosophical approach is interspersed with some fighting talk too, particularly for the Nigerians. “I was listening to Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi talking about Namibia and he doesn’t seem to rate us that much. He will feel us when we play them.”
Kaanjuka also wants to turn Windhoek’s Independence Stadium into a fortress. The Namibians lost 4-1 there to Burkina Faso in a Nations Cup qualifier last June, precipitating a change of coaching staff. Those kind of defeats are no longer acceptable says the coach. “It used to be a venue where away teams got very little. We want to get that back. We want all the teams that come here to go home empty-handed.”