The biggest losing scoreline in the Girls’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament continues to grow despite the best efforts of serial record-breakers Namibia, who shipped nine goals without reply in their opener against Mexico before losing their second game 10-0 to the hosts.
Landslide defeats in back-to-back games are bitter pills for any team to swallow. Yet for this developing African nation of only 2.1 million people, the significance of those two matches extends far beyond the results. This is Namibia’s maiden outing in a FIFA international tournament and their overriding priority is clearly to pick up international experience and make progress.
"In the opening game [against Mexico] the players were too nervous," head coach Mervin Mbakera told FIFA.com. "They made too many mistakes and lost possession too quickly. In the second game against China, the players were obviously a lot calmer and played their normal game a lot more. The unfortunate thing was that in the face of the hosts’ onslaught we still lost. Perhaps that’s normal in a youth competition of this level."
But as the saying goes, there's no gain without pain, so Namibia are surely making giant strides here in Nanjing. "Although they lost, the players gained experience," continued the Namibian coach. "They know what kind of expectations are on their shoulders and they’ve also been able to gauge the standard of international competition. They can make a lot of progress in a tournament like this. If they continue to advance, then it’s conceivable that in the next four to five years many of them will get into the higher level national teams and even the senior setup."
*A big year for Namibian women’s football
*As far as the women’s game in Namibia is concerned, 2014 is a landmark year. Besides the U-15 team making their debut in the Girl’s Youth Olympic Football Tournament, the senior national side - nicknamed the Brave Gladiators - will compete as hosts at the 11th CAF African Women's Championship later this October, with the top three teams qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™. Fuelling this momentum is the country’s burgeoning women’s football movement.
"Several years ago our country launched the Women's Super League, which is for adult women's football," continued Mbakera. "Two years ago we started the Galz & Goals U-15 girls’ leagues. Most of the players in this squad were selected from those leagues, which play a huge role in helping us to nurture young players."
Brave Gladiators coach Jacqueline Shipanga has acted as a vital liaison in the development of the women’s game in Namibia, according to her U-15 counterpart: "She's one of the pioneers of our women's football movement," Mbakera pointed out. "In addition to leading the national side, she also set up the Jacqueline Shipanga Academy, whose team won the inaugural season of the Women's Super League. When I was putting together this Youth Olympic team she also gave me a lot of advice and guidance. Even when we lost the first game, she also encouraged us to pick ourselves up."
*Stars on the rise
*The junior Gladiators still have one more chance to prove their star quality in the match for fifth place against seasoned YOG challengers Papua New Guinea on Monday: "Papua New Guinea are participating in their second Youth Olympic Games," Mbakera said, "so they have a lot of experience and will be very tricky opponents. But with our previous experience, we will give it our best shot and go all out to get a victory."
But whatever the outcome, in Mbakera’s eyes, his proteges have come of age at the Youth Olympics and are ready to take the next step up.
"Back home these players will have very good development opportunities," the Namibia coach said, "because they have represented the nation in a global tournament such as this. Others will see them in a different light and they will continue to progress. Given time, they will become our stars."