Namibia ready for Burundi challenge on Saturday

Namibia coach Bobby Samaria received mixed news this week as he prepares his side to take on Burundi in their opening match of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday (kick-off 15h00 CAT).

The Brave Warriors are hoping to return to the continental finals after last appearing in Egypt in 2019, and have set their sights on a place in the Ivory Coast next June.

They are in a three-team group after Kenya were disqualified due to their FIAF suspension, both enhancing Namibia’s chances but also limiting their scope for slip-ups.

They will therefore want maximum points at ‘home’ to Burundi, but have lost key star Joslin Kamatuka to a knee injury in the build-up to the game after he collided with a teammate in training and has been ruled out of the match.

“He was badly injured and won’t be able to take part,” Samaria says. “We have limited attacking options and Kamatuka has elements of a goal or two in him when you least expect it, but we equally believe in the abilities of the other forwards, and they will deliver as well.”

The good news is the return of skipper Petrus Shitembi, who plays in Malaysia with Terengganu FC.

The 30-year-old did not participate in the 2021 Cup of Nations qualifiers and played just once in the 2022 FIFA World Cup preliminaries, but is back in the mix for the first time since 2019 to lend his considerable skill and experience.

Namibia have been in camp in Johannesburg since last week Wednesday, so will be well acclimatised. This is also the fourth time they will use South Africa as a ‘home’ venue as their national stadium in Windhoek does not meet Confederation of African Football requirements.

Samaria is aware of the challenges facing his side but is confident they can get a positive result.

“I think Burundi will present challenges, but we need to be bigger than those and find football solutions to them,” he said. “They have improved in leaps and bounds and will certainly go flat out to try and reach their second Cup of Nations finals.

“Let us not be fooled by their world ranking [number 139] and we expect a very tactical game.”

Aside from the loss of Kamatuka, Samaria has also confirmed he absence of some other key players due to injury, while Ryan Nyambe asked to be withdrawn for personal reasons.

“We sadly had some withdrawals from the team with players like Wangu Gome and Obrey Amseb due to injuries sustained at their respective clubs. As much as the odds are stacked against us, we believe we have what it takes to put up a good fight.

“We must be prepared during crucial moments in the game and act accordingly, but the boys are ready and the fitness levels are great. The locally-based players have picked up momentum and are in great shape.”

The two teams clashed in the qualifiers for the 2017 Cup of Nations finals and oddly both recorded 3-1 away wins. Those are their only two previous meetings.