The Brave Warriors of Namibia have managed to fight their way up in the FIFA Coca-Cola World Rankings from 118th in October to 98th in November. It is the first time they can boast to being one of the best 100 teams in the world since November 2001, when they had the same position.
The improvement of the southern African team coincides with the appointment of former national team player Ricardo Mannetti as coach three years ago. The gifted midfielder, who can look back at a successful career as a professional in South Africa, said that when he took over he told Namibian officials that they had to embark on a journey with him.
“I realised that I did not have the team to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017, and we had to be realistic about that,” he told FIFA.com. “I told them I wanted to build a team for the future and they bought into the idea. One of the main things was that we did not want to chop and change the team too much. I decided that there had to be consistency and for that, I looked at a squad with whom I could work going into the future.
“That, of course, does not mean that there was no place for any new players and that I would stick with players if they were not performing, but I wanted the players to get the feeling that I trusted them and if they gave it their all, that would be recognised.”
And it was obviously not only the officials that bought into Mannetti's plans, as he took the Brave Warriors to a first-ever victory in the regional COSAFA Cup tournament, hosted in South Africa last year. “That success was important as it showed everybody that we were on the right track. The players believed in themselves and the fans believed in the team.”
Although they failed to repeat that success this year, losing on penalties to Botswana in the semi-finals, they did manage to go on to win the plate event (a knockout competition for the four losing quarter-finalists), beating a strong Zambian side 1-0.
“Again this was very important for the team and the whole country. With every small step we take, we get closer towards our goals, which are to have a competitive team that can challenge for places at the continental finals.”
Unlike most of his African counterparts, Mannetti does not have a host of European-based players to call upon. “I would say 50 per cent of my squad play locally and the other 50 per cent play in South Africa.”
He does not see that as a disadvantage. “Being based in Namibia myself, I can regularly watch my players and I can keep track of their performances. That makes my job much easier.”
He has also adopted a policy of not playing players who are based outside Namibia but fail to get regular match-time for their clubs. “That does not make sense. If I use players who belong to an outside club, but do not play, what justification have I got for that? Surely it then makes sense to use a Namibian-based player who plays regularly in the top flight here.”
The newly-wed coach, who tied the knot at the end of November, said he is confident Namibia's footballing future is bright. “I have the support of the association, fans are behind the Brave Warriors and we are building a team for the future.
“I am incredibly proud of the achievements that we have managed in the three years already, and I think the FIFA rankings reflect that. It also gives us the motivation to do even better."