Namibia is a land of dramatic contrasts, not least its landscape, but also the fact its vast land mass is inhabited by a relatively small population. With less than two million citizens, Namibia has been punching above its weight in recent years, by notably qualifying for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Ghana.
While the tournament turned into more of a lesson than a competitive exercise for the Brave Warriors, they will have legitimate hopes of success in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign.
FIFA.com has spoken with their 56-year-old Dutch coach Arie Schans, who took over the job at the head of the Namibian side just one month before the start of January's CAF Africa Cup of Nations. He replaced Zambian-born coach Ben Bamfuchile, who tragically died a little more than 30 days before the kick-off of the finals. Schans has previous experience of coaching in China and the J-League in Japan but is working for the first time on the African continent.
FIFA.com: What are Namibia's realistic ambitions for this FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign? Arie Schans: Our ambition, of course, will be to get past the first round. We have been drawn in the same group with Kenya, Zimbabwe and Guinea, who will all be tough opponents. Of course, Guinea are likely to be the strongest team but we played them in Ghana and drew 1-1. So, we believe that we can go through to the next round.
How much has the Namibia side improved since the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals?
Well, we got better with each game in the tournament in Ghana. We got a lot of experience from that tournament and hopefully we can start now to use that in the qualifying campaign against Kenya. All our players from clubs outside the country will be there. I think Namibia will be able to put out quite a strong side and that will give us a great chance against Kenya and Zimbabwe especially.
*How vital was the experience and exposure that your players got at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals earlier this year? * It was very important. That's what I have told my employers here at the Namibian Football Association. I said that those games are so much more valuable than even three months of intense work in a training camp. They got to experience the standard of top international football and see first hand and close up how top international players apply themselves. Since then, our players have to the realise they have to work much harder than they have done. Football nowadays is really a job and I have the feeling that Namibia and Namibian footballers are beginning to realise that more and more.
How vital are the considerable numbers of Namibian players who play for clubs in Germany, Angola and in neighbouring South Africa?
They give us the extra 10 per cent that is sometimes the difference between our chances of drawing or winning a match. If you talk about Collin Benjamin, our captain, who plays for SV Hamburg in Germany, he has a lot of experience. He has played [UEFA] Champions League football. We have Harman Toromba, who plays in South Africa. He is a very important player for us because he has the right mentality to play in the centre of defence. These are just two of those who are playing aboard. They are all vital to our team.
When you took over as Namibia coach you had just a month to get to know your players before the kick-off of the Cup of Nations in Ghana? Do you know them a lot better now?
Yes, of course. I have now been able to watch a lot of games in the Namibia Premier League and now I have a better opinion about the quality of the players I want to use. It is now a much better situation than before the Cup of Nations with the sad and unforeseen passing away of Ben Bamfuchile. It was not possible in one month to prepare what I wanted to do, so for that reason I'm much better prepared ahead of these World Cup qualifiers.
*Is there a special pressure on you to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals because it is being hosted in South Africa, Namibia's neighbour? * No, no, I don't feel any pressure at all. There is certainly no added pressure.