Namibia/Burundi: Warriors Have Fire in Their Belly

Collin Benjamin says the Brave Warriors camp has an abundance of passion and commitment ahead of their pivotal 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Burundi.

The head coach named his final squad on Tuesday for the clash which will be played in Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania, on 20 June.

Like Namibia, Burundi do not have a stadium that meets basic CAF or Fifa requirements to stage international matches.

Benjamin said the team is “in a good space” despite being forced to play their home matches in neighbouring South Africa due to substandard venues in Namibia, robbing them of the treasured 12th man during home ties.

He gave an impressive assessment of his charges’ attitude towards their final Group C qualifier from which they require only a point to seal qualification to the premier continental competition.

“There were no lacklustre training sessions. They’re doing their part. They’re fighting and arguing among each other, that means they want to achieve something,” Benjamin said of the mood in camp ahead of the decisive encounter.

Namibia drew 1-1 against Burundi in their opening qualifier and stunned Cameroon 2-1 ‘at home’ in Johannesburg without their beloved supporters.

“It’s the stuff around them. They would want to play at home. If they do go to the Africa Nations Cup in Côte d’Ivoire next year, it would have been lovely to send them off with a friendly at the Independence Stadium. But that’s not the case, so should we cry?

“No, we’ll just continue. We’re going to go to Tanzania and they’re gonna give their best. These guys are going to fight,” Benjamin said of his fired-up Warriors.

The ex-Hamburg SV star has the delicate job of balancing replenishing the team with gifted youngsters while remaining competitive.

Given the teams’ results to date, which include an impressive humbling of African giants, Cameroon, in back-to-back qualifiers in March, he appears to be on track.

“They’re going to bring the result that we need and go to the Africa Nations Cup, and make history as players of a certain generation that went to the nations cup twice. That’s what I’m looking at and that’s what I’m proud of,” said Benjamin, who was assistant to predecessor Ricardo Mannetti at the 2019 Afcon in Egypt.

Benjamin also reached the Cosafa Cup finals last year and will be looking for a similar performance when the competition kicks off early next month.

“Maybe as a nation, we should look at how we can support them, and reward them, how we can give them their flowers while they are around. We’re in a good space, they’re doing their best, they are hungry and that’s what they are showing on the field,” he said.

The versatile Absalom Iimbondi is one of the old heads retained by Benjamin when he took over the reins last year for his experience, graft and positive mindset.

Iimbondi (31) is determined to reach a fourth continental tournament with the Brave Warriors, having played at two African Nations Championships and an Afcon. He was a key cog in the historic Cosafa Cup triumph in 2015 under Mannetti.

“We’re not going there [Dar es-Salaam] thinking of collecting a point, we’re thinking of collecting three points,” Iimbondi said, before adding that “it will be history in the making” should he realise his dream of another Afcon appearance.