Between the sticks with Athiel ‘Cool Cat’ Mbaha

Katutura’s glamorous soccer club African Stars have produced a significant number of superb shooting saves over the years, but none come close to acrobatic net keeper Asaria Ndjiva Kauami.

The likes of Ripuree Hoveka, Ngatangue Kezumo, Cheese Kavikairirua, Big Charles Ngozu, Colin Usurua, Gruzi Goseb, Njangatare Kajau, Mannes Mujetenga, Ratjindua Katjimune, Amos Kajau and Abel Kazondunge, all donned the ‘red’ stripe blue, at different intervals with varying fortunes.

Nonetheless, the inevitable arrival of the big-frame glove man Athiel Mbaha from Otjinene, entrenched in the densely populated Omaheke region, added a new dimension to the team’s playstyle.

The redesigned Reds returned to their traditional one-touch football philosophy, calmly introduced by German mentor Dr Dieter Widmann at the dawn of multiracial football in apartheid South West Africa (SWA) in 1977.

New Era Sport has caught up with the retired giant hitchhiker as he takes you, our dear reader, through his incredible football journey that saw him plying his trade across the Orange River in the highly competitive Southern Football League. -African (PSL).

It is often whispered in the halls of local football gossip that the nimble former Brave Warriors goalie “Mr Cool Cat” is among the best goalkeepers to ever groom our football pitches after independence, though popular wisdom among football experts is that Ronnie Kanalelo had very little. peers in the goaltending department, if applicable.

Mbaha took his place between the sticks during his formative years as a high school student in Okakarara, guarding the goal for both Kaondeka Aces and Super Stars football clubs, respectively.

It didn’t take long for his almost flawless performance between the posts to attract the attention of talent scouts from the City of Lights (Windhoek). African Stars came knocking on his door, and the giant keeper didn’t need a second invite.

‘Cool Cat’, as the beloved goalkeeper among his admirers affectionately called him, has had a solid four seasons with ‘Starlile’, making the number one jersey his personal property in the process.

However, coastal giants Blue Waters came to swing a juicy carrot in his baby face, forcing the giant goalie to trade the bright lights for the cool breeze from the frigid Atlantic Ocean.

Ultimately, playing under the watchful eye of savvy Zimbabwean mentor Sheperd Murape, the newcomer to the block has blossomed into a much sought-after shooter and has almost single-handedly guided ‘Omeya’ to the coveted league title. , MTC and The FNB Cup triumph in its three seasons with the exciting outfit of Kuisebmond.

After winning almost all the available cutlery it was time for a new challenge and it was no surprise when “Cool Cat” finally signed for PSL Black Leopards.

Meanwhile, Mbaha’s rise to stardom has not escaped the attention of national coaches, as Brave Warriors assistant head coach Max Johnson, replaced by Sandro de Gouveia, called him on for. Warriors training camp in 2004.

He made his international debut against Lesotho in an away friendly at Maseru, and although he conceded a goal, ‘Cool Cat’ finished on the winning side with the Warriors coming out on top. 2-1.

The giant goalkeeper cemented his place in the Warriors squad as the nation’s number one. He was instrumental when Namibia qualified for their second African Cup of Nations appearance in Ghana in 2008, precisely 10 years after Namibia made its debut in the continent’s centerpiece.

The slurred speech ‘Cool Cat’ kept endemic Ghanaian strikers at bay for much of an exciting encounter between Namibia’s hosts and outsiders. The hosts’ magnificent line of fire was led by internationally renowned stars such as Sullie Muntari, Asamoah Gyan and Michael Essien.

Tellingly, the Namibian fans matched the coveted hosts in their second match of the group stage, despite a lone goal (1-0) via Essien’s boot, in front of a crowded national stadium in Accra. .

After a relatively low-key stint in the old-fashioned Limpompo outfit, the homesick “Cool Cat” returned home, only to resurface with Katutura giants Orlando Pirates, helping the “Ghosts” win their first title. champion in 40 years.

A passing bird, ‘Cool Cat’ developed itchy feet and hopped on the smooth sailing Buccaneers’ boat to join rivals Ramblers. His imposing presence between the sticks propelled the Pionierspark team to a respectable finalist place in the race for the title of champion.

Next up was South Africa, where he teamed up with Maritzburg United’s PSL squad under the guidance of multi-time world champion coach Gordon Igesund.

“It was a whole new ball game to play in PSL against top teams. Imagine yourself face to face with Mamelodi Sundowns with incredible players like Surprise Moriri, Lerato Shabangu and Lungisani ‘Long Tom’ Ndlela in their arsenal. Without a doubt, the highlight of my time in PSL was when the Leopards beat the Kaizer Chiefs 2-1 in a Championship game at Thohoyandou.

“Surprisingly, I didn’t have any pre-season training with the team and went straight into the starting XI in a friendly at Richardsbay. Fortunately, we won the game and I managed to save a penalty. Coach Igesund made me sign the contract the next day. We had a very good squad with a decent mix of experienced players and enthusiastic youngsters led by Junior Kanye, Lucky Maselesele and other gifted youngsters.

Capped 39 times by his homeland, the widely traveled “Cool Cat” also had a short stint with the Donkerhoek Tigers outfit, propelling “Ingwe” to third place on the NPL newspaper table in his first season for the old time. activists.

Despite an almost impeccable playing career, the retired giant goalkeeper is still unhappy with the shoddy manner in which the Warriors lost a crucial Cosafa Cup game to Botswana at Independence Stadium in Windhoek. The match ended in one and had to be played on penalties.

“Eish … it was a very painful episode because I saved three penalties in the dreaded shootout but we still lost 2-1.”

Now a formidable chess player and part-time cattle breeder, ‘Cool Cat’ also doubles as a goalkeeper coach at his former club African Stars, drawing on the vast experience gained over the years. He was crowned champion of the Independence Blitz Chess Tournament in 2017.

2022-01-07 Carlos kambaekwa

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