CASABLANCA (AFP) – Surprise quarter-finalists Namibia are eager to confront African Nations Championship (CHAN) hosts and title favourites Morocco Saturday in a packed Casablanca stadium.
The match at the 65,000-seat Stade Mohammed V kicks off the last-eight phase of the competition for home-based footballers with Zambia facing Sudan in Marrakech later the same day.
Nigeria play Angola in Tangiers and Congo Brazzaville meet Libya in Agadir Sunday and the four winners advance to the semi-finals of the biennial tournament next Wednesday.
Only the outcome of the clash between Morocco and Namibia appears predictable with few neutrals giving the southern African nation any chance of survival.
But Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti, who played professionally in South Africa and was a midfielder in the national team, begs to differ.
“All the pressure is on Morocco,” he told AFP. “They are the host nation, are ranked among the top five African football nations, and are expected to win this tournament.
“We are looking forward to taking them on in front of a packed crowd that will include very few supporters of Namibia.
“My boys are tired of playing in near-empty stadiums. Very few people saw us shock the Ivory Coast and Uganda and hold Zambia.
“We are desperate to show what we are capable of before a large audience. Playing in front of a small crowd is no fun.”
Mannetti, who guided Namibia to the regional COSAFA Cup title three years ago, says being dismissed as “no-hopers” before the Morocco tournament has worked to their advantage.
“I believe some Ivorians and Ugandans assumed playing Namibia meant three points. That worked in our favour. My boys vowed to show them we were no pushovers.”
The furthest Morocco, whose squad includes five-goal leading tournament scorer Ayoub el Kaabi, have gone previously is the quarter-finals, losing to Nigeria four years ago.
They hammered Mauritania 4-0 and Guinea 3-1 during the group phase in Casablanca before missing a penalty in a 0-0 draw with Sudan having rested 10 first-choices, including El Kaabi.
Zambia have Augustine Mulenga and Lazarous Kambole — two of only four players who scored more than once in the mini-leagues — while goalkeeper Akram Elhadi has starred for Sudan.
Nigeria have improved with each match, slamming three goals past Equatorial Guinea to top Group C, while Angola have managed only one in 270 minutes, and that came from a penalty.
Congo against Libya is a repeat of a drawn 2014 group match and the north Africans went on to surprisingly win that tournament in South Africa thanks to three penalty shootout successes.
Although restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth, Nations Championship games carry full international status and count toward the monthly FIFA rankings.