Harambee Stars face stern Egypt test
BY AFRICABET WRITER
KENYAN sport is currently basking in the glory of the national Sevens rugby team being crowned African champions in Johannesburg last weekend, a feat which earned the country qualification to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Will the rich vein of form continue for Kenya when the football team, the Harambee Stars, kick starts its 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualification quest with a tough opening match away to Egypt on Thursday evening?
Well, Kenya will definitely fancy their chances in the Pharaohs’ own backyard, having arrived in Egypt a good four days earlier and allowing themselves time to acclimatise to local conditions before the big test.
The match will be played at the imposing Borg El Arab Stadium in the coastal resort of Alexandria, the North African country’s second-largest city.
The home-based group of Harambee Stars flew out of Nairobi on Sunday and landed in Cairo on Monday, with the bulk of the foreign-based contingent – led by Tottenham Hotspurs midfielder Victor Wanyama – expected to fly directly to the Egyptian capital from their respect bases.
Only two foreign-based stars, Eric Ouma and Joseph Stanley Olumu – who ply their trade in Sweden – travelled with the rest of the squad from Nairobi.
After the Egypt tie, Kenya will then host Togo at the MISC Kasarani in Nairobi four days later – a double-header of qualifiers that will show if the Stars have the pedigree to qualify for a second consecutive Nations Cup tournament.
Kenya played in the last Afcon finals early this year, hosted by their opponents on Thursday, Egypt.
While Kenya will have ample time to get used to the conditions of Alexandria, the 16-hour trip via Dubai en route to the port city Alexandria, however, drew criticism from Harambee Stars head coach Francis Kimanzi.
“We have to take it as it has happened,” Kimanzi told Kenya’s Capital Sport at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Sunday.
“We think it’s crazy, but we don’t have a choice. If you have 15-30hrs of return travel when you should be doing around 10, it’s a bit crazy. But if the ministry of (of sport) sees it workable that way, then there’s nothing we can do.”
Fatigue fears, Kimanzi was nonetheless in a fairly bullish mood, declaring that his team has the ingredients to defy Africa’s most successful national team come Thursday evening.
“It is the first game and we can’t panic because we know we can do it,” he said. “It is all about the character we put on the pitch. All of us have back-to-back games and it depends on who is luckier. If we are lucky over the two matches, we could go to the break with at least an edge.”
KENYA FULL SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Patrick Matasi (St. George SC, Ethiopia), Timothy Odhiambo (Ulinzi Stars, Kenya), Ian Otieno (Red Arrows, Zambia).
Defenders: Johnstone Omurwa (Wazito, Kenya), Harun Shakava (Nkana, Zambia), Joash Onyango (Gor Mahia, Kenya), Daniel Sakari (Kariobangi Sharks, Kenya), Hillary Wandera (Tusker, Kenya), Erick Ouma (Vasalunds IF, Sweden), Joseph Okumu (IF Elfsborg, Sweden), Samuel Olwande (Kariobangi Sharks, Kenya).
Midfielders: Teddy Akumu (Zesco United, Zambia), Johanna Omollo (Cercle Brugge, Belgium), Kenneth Muguna (Gor Mahia, Kenya), Ayub Timbe (Beijing Renhe, China), Victor Wanyama (Tottenham Hotspurs, England), Boniface Muchiri (Tusker, Kenya), Lawrence Juma (Gor Mahia, Kenya), Cliff Nyakeya (FC Masr, Egypt), Erick Johanna Omondi (IF Brommapojkarma, Sweden), Whyvone Isuza (AFC Leopards, Kenya).
Forwards: Michael Olunga (Kashiwa Reysol, Japan), Jesse Were (Zesco United, Zambia), John Avire (Sofapaka, Kenya), John Mark Makwatta (AFC Leopards, Kenya).