BRAVE Warriors head coach Ricardo Mannetti has called on his charges not to be overawed by the occasion or their more illustrious opponents the Ivory Coast Elephants in their opening African Nations Championships match in Marrakech on Sunday.
He said the Brave Warriors need to stand up and be counted when the battle to be crowned Africa's best second-tier footballing nation begins in Morocco this weekend.
The tournament, open only to players who ply their trade on the African continent, will see Morocco, Mauritania, Guinea, Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Libya, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Rwanda, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville battle for honours between 13 January and 4 February.
Given their relatively lowly status as a footballing nation, Namibia are not expected to make much headway in the competition, which suits them just fine.
The pressure is on their rivals Ivory Coast, ranked 61st to Namibia's 118 by Fifa, who finished third at the last edition in Rwanda. The physical Ivorians warmed up for Saturday's match with a 3-1 win over fellow finalists Sudan on Monday, while the Brave Warriors head into the clash off a 1-1 draw with Rwanda last Sunday.
“We are almost there, and just need to put the final touches in place over the next two days,” Mannetti told The Namibian Sport from the team's base in Marrakech on Thursday.
He has spent a great deal of the run-up to the tournament attempting to instil self-belief in a side which qualified without having played competitive league football for over 16 months due to administrative unrest.
And he has seen enough during the two-week camp in Tunisia to suggest that he has succeeded.
“The players can't wait to make the nation proud. We have played two matches with different combinations and formations because we will face different levels of opponents,” said the 42-year-old, who lost 4-3 to Ivory Coast as a player in a thrilling 1998 Africa Cup of Nations' group match in Burkina Faso.
There will be no room for self-doubt on Sunday and going beyond, he noted.
“Self-belief is key. We need to be confident, and have the mental strength to handle the big stage and everything that comes with it. Lastly, we need to stick to our plan and tactics if we are to make an impact,” Mannetti said.
Namibia and Ivory Coast have met four times to date, with the latest result a 1-1 Afcon qualifier played in Windhoek in 1999.
The reverse fixture ended 3-0 to the Elephants. In their first meeting, the Brave Warriors triumphed 2-0 at home in a 1994 friendly.
On paper and given their pedigree, the 1992 and 2015 African champions are overwhelming favourites to beat tournament debutants Namibia on Sunday and march on to challenge for the title.
But there are no guarantees, and the Brave Warriors have become a unit to be reckoned with in recent times.
“It's not fear, but respect for Ivory Coast. We should all respect one another in the group, because if you don't, then football will humble you. So, on that note, Ivory Coast and the others should respect us because if they don't, they will regret it.
“The underdog would like to believe it is their year. Our destiny is up to us, and if we believe and work towards it every game, then we will get out of the group,” Mannetti said.
The others in Group D include Uganda and Zambia, ranked 75th and 74th by Fifa, who conclude Sunday's programme.
Namibia will face Uganda on 18 January, and Zambia four days later.
The Ivory Coast and Uganda, who are yet to go beyond the group phase, have played at Chan three times, with 2009 third-place finishers Zambia making their third appearance.
Morocco, who stepped in at the eleventh hour to host the tournament following Caf's decision to strip unprepared Kenya of the rights, are among those expected to bag the top prize. They kick-start the action against Mauritania tomorrow, with fellow favourites Guinea facing Sudan on Sunday in Group A's other fixture.
- Title: Brave Warriors unfazed by Elephants as Chan kicks off.
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- Date: 9:29 PM