The South is rising at Africa Cup of Nations

Namibia's midfielder Deon Hotto (L) fights for the ball with Tunisia's goalkeeper Bechir Ben Said during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 group E football match between Tunisia and Namibia at Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo

Will it be too premature for the Cosafa region to proclaim they are now on par with the rest of the continent’s top guns at the Africa Cup of Nations? Seen here: Namibia's midfielder Deon Hotto (L) fights for the ball with Tunisia's goalkeeper Bechir Ben Said. Picture: Fadel Senna/AFP

Published Jan 20, 2024


In tournament football, where it is generally accepted that “it is not how you start but how you finish that matters”, should we not get excited about the Match-Day One results of southern African teams?

Will it be too premature for the Cosafa region to proclaim they are now on par with the rest of the continent’s top guns? After all, aren’t our countries often expected to – and generally do – just add to the numbers at Africa Cup of Nations finals?

Have we not – in the 34-editions of the biennial continental showpiece – won a mere two titles, while the North and West African countries, as well as Central Africa’s Cameroon, continue to share the trophy among themselves?

It was thus not surprising that all of us down here in the south were shouting out loud when tiny Namibia finally registered a victory in their fourth appearance, when they scored a Match-Day One shock 1-0 victory over third-ranked Tunisia.

Remarkable draw

Coming as it did shortly after Mozambique had almost pulled off what would have been a much-much bigger win against mighty Egypt, only to be pegged back by an added time Mo Salah penalty for a still remarkable 2-2 draw, Namibia’s victory was massive. It left Group B wide open and has ensured their clash on Sunday with Bafana Bafana – who were the biggest disappointment for Cosafa, as they lost 2-0 to Mali in their opener – is a southern Africa derby not to be missed.

Namibia’s victory brought a sense of pride to a nation accustomed to “beatings“, said coach Collin Benjamin.

“This is huge for Namibia; we have always been getting beatings as a country – on the pitch, in politics and other spheres. This victory brings restoration, it’s nation-building. It’s pride for every Namibian. This work of ours is for them. We are all proud, (we’re all in) ecstasy. It’s a feeling that I cannot describe. I am proud to be Namibian; proud to be coach of these players and proud of these players. Pride is all I am feeling.“

And the rest of the region no doubt is proud of their team’s showing – the fact that the tournament is still young and things can go pear-shaped in the next matches notwithstanding.

In Mozambique, the draw against Egypt was celebrated wildly, although it has been said that one fan collapsed and died when the Mambas conceded that very late penalty goal, which robbed them of what would have been a famous victory.

‘We kept believing’

Kaizer Chiefs defender Edmilson, who played for his country, was beaming afterwards: “Obviously we knew it would not be easy and we did not start well. But even after that early (goal we conceded), we kept believing and we came back. Sure, we could not get the three points, but we’ll take the point. We proved we can go toe-to-toe with anyone. We believe in each other and the process worked. We made those in the stadium and those back at home proud.”

The fact that Angola also held the revered Algeria 1-1 and Zambia also secured a stalemate against a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) side that completely dominated them made it all a good start for the region.

Is this all a sign that the playing fields are now a bit more even, perhaps? It could be. But as the saying goes, it is not how you start, but how you finish. And Cosafa teams will only convince fans that they have lifted themselves up to the standard of their western and northern, and not forgetting central adversaries, by getting into the knock-out phase.

Better still, one of them should emulate Bafana and Chipolopolo by winning the tournament.

Can it be done? Let’s wait and see.


IOL Sport

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