Starting from where I left off last week, this is a big day for national football coach Eddington Ng’onamo and his assistants Ernest Mtawali and Patrick Mabedi. They have had no luxury of a honeymoon having been thrown right into the deep end as they take the success-starved Flames to the Independence Stadium in Windhoek, Namibia, in a crucial World Cup qualifier later today.
This is a match we have to win to have any realistic chances of making progress in this competition. This is a team we have never beaten in competitive football. Today’s result, therefore, has far-reaching significance. It will have a huge impact on our future in this competition and beyond, but it will also have a huge bearing on the future of the technical panel. In other words, it is a pressure game.
The start on Tuesday was inauspicious and, as advised by the coaches, one should not read much into the result. That begs the question as to why we embarked on the match at all. For all intents purposes, we did not discover anything new — scoring has been our problem for a long time — and, with some of our key players not on show, we did not try anything new.
The only thing that we got from playing against the Zebras of Botswana was match fitness, otherwise, the team that is likely to start today will not have ever played together under this technical panel and we will be experimenting. As rightly pointed out by the Namibian national football coach, that does not do us any favours. In those circumstances, a victory will be a major achievement.
Of course, as I have said, not many Flames fans will pay attention to those facts. They expect a win every time and this game will be no exception regardless of the context. The advice from me, however, is that we need to lower our expectations because whether we like it or not, this is a fresh start and that is not always the best time to expect to break the jinx with a more settled side.
A word or two on the news earlier this week that former England international striker Michael Owen will be hanging up his boots at the end of the season almost 15 years to the day when he announced himself to the world with that sensational solo goal against Argentina in the World Cup in France. I cannot help thinking this is a decision that has been forced upon him rather than planned.
One of Owen’s biggest strengths has been incredible self-belief. He has always believed that he is one of the best strikers in the world and understandably so. At 21 years, he won the Ballon d’Or before it was merged with the Fifa World Player of the Year after leading my Liverpool to a Uefa Cup (now Europa League), FA Cup and League Cup treble and was destined for greatness.
Unfortunately, things did not work out as was envisaged and Owen never fulfilled his full potential. This was largely due to a series of horrific injuries that took his devastating pace away, but the game’s evolution has also made him less of an attractive proposition as a main option.
But such is Owen’s self-belief that he has always refused to play at any level lower than the Premier League and when he could not get a game at a struggling Stoke City, the reality of his options dawned upon him and he decided to prematurely bring the curtain down on what was a great career nonetheless.