It’s been a while that African nations have caught the fancy of football buffs the world over. However, unlike Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana among others, Namibia is yet to make a mark.
“Namibia is primarily a cricket-playing nation and football is popular up to the school-level. Avenues for training are few and most opt out from pursuing a career in football,” said Thomas Saintfiet, their Belgian coach.
Saintfiet’s team is here to play an India squad that went down fighting to a superior Thailand side at home and away earlier this month. India are also nursing injuries to key midfielders Steven Dias and Renedy Singh besides defenders Anwar Ali and Surkumar Singh.
“Dias had two broken ribs in the Thailand match and Renedy (Singh) has been ruled out as well. They are an experienced duo and will be missed especially during the set-pieces. The midfield will be controlled by Clifford (Miranda) on the left and Anthony (Pereira) on the right with James Singh controlling the centre,” said India coach Bob Houghton. If the coach sticks to his plans, either Climax Lawrence or N.P. Pradeep may start on the bench.
Asked about what he hoped to achieve in the fixture, Saintfiet, 37, said: “I am here to win and I hope Namibia manages to impress you all. This will help my players, especially if there are contracts extended to them.”
Namibia, ranked 115th, are without acclaimed midfielder Collin Benjamin, who plays for Hamburg SV in Germany’s Bundesliga, and a host of other experienced players. Seasoned medio Quinton Jacobs though is here and expected to start.
“All the players we have brought have quality but none of them are professional. Also, this set of players has not played a competitive match since March nor have they been part of any training camps. That the Namibian league itself is off by four months does not help,” explained Saintfiet.
Asked by HT what his biggest worry was, Saintfiet said: “Match fitness is my only concern. We have barely trained and last-minute preparation to play an international friendly seldom helps. Acclimatisation to the humid conditions here has been difficult as well.”
On Wednesday, Namibia are likely to employ substantial defensive tactics and look to hit on the break against opponents ranked 138th on the FIFA list.
India will hope for glimpses of attacking potential from poster-boy Sunil Chhetri and youngster Abhishek Yadav. Skipper Bhaichung Bhutia, who looked good in a cameo last Wednesday in the 1-2 defeat against Thailand, could again be a late entrant.
For India to pack a punch in the front third, Miranda and Pereira should be able to use the width of the park and ensure good deliveries for the strikers. A ‘number-one’ with the calibre of Subrata Pal, as always, is a reassuring figure.
For Namibia a win at the Ambedkar Stadium would enhance their reputation as an emerging football nation. And victory for India could well be that injection of confidence required to perform more consistently in their October fixtures against Yemen and Vietnam.