Boy! Oh boy! This was the stuff that dreams are made of.
The Flames last evening broke the Namibia jinx with a deserved 1-0 win in a 2014 World Cup qualifier at Independence Stadium in Windhoek that saw them dislodge reigning African champions Nigeria’s Super Eagles at the pinnacle of Group F.
The Flames now have five points from three games—a point ahead of Kenya’s Harambee Stars and Nigeria who are tied on four points.
The Harambee Stars stood up to be counted when they stunned Nigeria 1-0 right at the latter’s backyard.
Wonderkid Gabadinho Mhango was the toast of the evening for the Flames when he stepped off the bench to strike the priceless goal in the 70th minute moments after being thrown in as a substitute.
The wonder boy replaced Atusaye Nyondo, provided the final flourish as desperation took its toll for the Flames.
It is not every time that the Flames stand proudly at the summit of a qualification group as big as the global showcase, more so when it also includes the continental champions and you could not blame assistant coaches Ernest Mtawali, Patrick Mabedi and their troops if at all they felt like flying, could you!
It has been a rocky old ride, characterised by bouts of despair, but on an evening of extraordinary drama, the Flames got their heads above water and, by sheer bloody mindedness, hauled themselves out of the mire.
Prior to the game, the Flames had lost all their previous six competitive matches to Namibia, but in just over one and a half hours of solid determination, they turned it all around to start a new chapter.
The last time the Flames won an away competitive game was in 2008—five years to be precise—when they thrashed Djibouti 3-0 in a joint 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Playing under the tutelage of Mtawali and Mabedi following the tragedy that struck caretaker coach Eddington Ng’onamo, who lost his last-born son just a day before the showdown, the Flames played out of their skins and in the end they were rewarded for their bravery and indomitable spirit.
The scales appeared to swing the Flames way right from the word go as they created a plethora of chances, but could not just find the back of the net.
Namibia were forced into rearguard action and that they survived several scares was because of an ounce of luck. In the 12th minute, revived veteran winger Fischer ‘Anong’a’ Kondowe’s cross went begging then Nyondo failed to tap the ball home from close range until he was intercepted with the hosts’ goalkeeper out of position.
Then Fischer again came close, soo too Mozambique-based forward Zicco Mkanda who missed in a one-on-one situation with the Brave Warriors goaltender.
As time ticked away, Independence Stadium oozed anxiety. Cometh the 70th minute, cometh the man and Gabadinho did it to perfection by tapping home a beautifully-weighted pass from Fischer for his first international goal.
Game over? Yes! And the first full points in this campaign were in the bag for the Flames who drew both their previous games against Kenya (0-0) and Nigeria (1-1).
Mtawali and captain Joseph ‘Shakira’ Kamwendo dedicated the win to Ng’onamo.
Said Mtawali: “We are very excited to win our first competitive game and that we have finally broken the Namibia jinx.
“More importantly, we dedicate the win to our coach Eddie who lost his son a few days ago. We were playing for Eddie with whom we have a very good working relationship and may his son’s soul rest in peace.”
Mtawali also admitted that the Flames would have won by more goals had they been sharper in front of goal.
The Flames have three more games before they wind up the campaign against Kenya and Namibia [at home] and Nigeria [away].
Flames line-up: Owen Chaima, Limbikani Mzava, Moses Chavula, Harry Nyirenda, James Sangala, Fischer Kondowe, Douglas Chirambo (Ndaziona Chatsalira), Joseph Kamwendo, Robert Ng’ambi, Nyondo (Gabadinho), Mkanda (Chimango Kayira).