by Kimathi Kamau
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Weeks of suspense
among passionate Kenyan football supporters turned into the
excitement of possibility when the country’s national team
Harambee Stars was drawn in Group C of the Egypt 2019 CAF Africa
Cup of Nations finals on Friday night in Cairo.
joined a pool containing 2002 FIFA World Cup quarterfinalist
Senegal, North African giant Algeria who won the 1990 AFCON on
home soil and East African neighbor Tanzania who are returning
to the biannual continental showpiece for the first time in 39
Kenya have now been pooled thrice against Senegal in the
AFCON finals, having also played the Lions of Teranga first in
1992 and then on their last appearance at the high table of
African football in Tunisia in 2004.
At Senegal 1992, the tournament hosts blanked Kenya 3-0 on
Jan. 16 before repeating the same result when they lined up in
Tunisia 14 years later as Kenya failed to advance past the group
stages at both tournaments.
Algerians on the other hand, have never forgotten what the
now five-time AFCON finalists did to them during the France 1998
FIFA World Cup qualifiers where Stars shocked the Desert Foxes
3-1 in Nairobi on June 2 before going on to restrict the hosts
to a 1-0 victory in Algiers on June 14 that sealed a shocking
3-2 win on aggregate for Kenya.
Algeria, who made national history at the 2014 World Cup in
Brazil when they made the knockout stages for the first time
ever in their fourth appearance at the global Mundial before
losing 2-1 after extra time to eventual champions Germany, were
ranked the 46th in the FIFA rankings when they were humbled by
the East Africans.
In Egypt, the intense football rivalry between Kenya and
Tanzania that travels back to the inaugural Gossage Cup - the
oldest regional tournament in Africa now known as CECAFA Senior
Challenge Cup - in 1926 will play out in front of a continental
audience for a maiden time.
Therefore, on June 30, long-suffering Kenyan football fans
will paint the entire nation red, green and white when their
beloved team opens their Egypt 2019 campaign against the Desert
Foxes before taking on regional archenemies Taifa Stars four
French head coach Sebastien Migne and his charges will round
off their Group C fixtures on July 1 with arguably the sternest
test against Senegal, the 2002 AFCON silver medalists in a match
that could decide the winners of Group C.
Since the outcome of the draw, AFCON fever in the notoriously
underachieving but football mad nation has reached a crescendo,
with conversation around the possible fate of Stars in Egypt
dominating mainstream and social media.
In fact, some football figures at home and elsewhere in
Africa have already tagged Stars as the dark horses of Group C,
with high optimism that Kenya can stir the pot and clinch a
place in the knockout phases either by finishing among the top
two or as one of the best third placed team from across all
pools of the expanded 24-team competition.
Critics on the other hand, argue that Stars do not possess
the quality required to outwit the might of Senegal and second
favourites Algeria underlining their fiercely contested regional
derby against Tanzania can go either way.
Musa Otieno, the retired defender who captained Stars at
their last AFCON tournament 15 years ago in Tunisia urged the
current side to leave nothing to chance if they harbour hopes of
announcing their return to the tournament with a bang.
"Group C is not easy; it’s actually very tough and
challenging. Any team can progress to the next round. We will
play Senegal who are among the best teams in the continent.
"Our match against Tanzania will be a derby, so we have to be
very cautious because the neighbours are out to earn the
regional bragging rights," said Otieno who made his name at the
heart of South African side Sanlam Santos defense challenged.
Current Stars captain, Victor Wanyama of English heavyweights
Tottenham Hotspur FC, ex-Chinese side Guizhou Hengfeng striker,
Michael Olunga and Belgium based midfielder Ayub Timbe are among
the notable players with the potential of making an impact for
their country in Egypt.
"Senegal have Sadio Mane and Harambee Stars have Wanyama, I
think the fear will be cancelled out.
"I believe Wanyama’s presence will be a big morale booster to
Kenya in their clash with Tanzania who are their fiercest
rivals," retired Namibia international goalkeeper, Ronnie
Kanalelo said on African satellite pay television, SuperSport
after the Cairo draw.
Feared Senegal standout marksman Mane has excelled as the
focal point of 18-time English league winners, Liverpool FC this
season, with 17 goals in 29 appearances in the league and three
in eight in the UEFA Champions League.
Kanalelo has previous history with Stars, having played a
starring role when Namibia punched a memorable ticket for their
first ever AFCON finals at Burkina Faso 1998 behind Cameroon
from a qualifying group that had Kenya and Gabon.
Namibia completed a smash and grabbed 1-0 victory in Nairobi
on June 21, 1997 in a match where their goal-keeping hero and
former captain made a string of outstanding saves to deny Kenya
who created 35 scoring chances on target in the penultimate
round of the qualifiers before a 1-1 draw at home to Gabon sent
them to Burkina Faso.
Speaking on the same terrestrial channel, retired Nigeria
international, Victor Ikpeba, who was in the feared Super Eagles
squad that was held to a 1-1 draw in Nairobi during a France 98
World Cup qualifier in what was branded as an upset warned the
Group C favorites to be wary of Kenya.
"Senegal and Algeria should have reasons to be afraid, from
what we saw in the qualifiers Harambee Stars are no longer
underdogs in Africa," the former striker who won the Atlanta
1996 Olympics gold medal and the 1994 AFCON title with Nigeria
While most agree Kenya has promise to deliver an upset or two
in Egypt, Otieno who played for Stars from 1993 to 2009, earning
a record 105 international caps in the process, called on the
country’s football chiefs to refrain from scuttling their AFCON
chances by mismanaging the squad.
One of the reasons Stars have failed to hit the heights a
country of their talent deserves is poor handling of the team
with unpaid allowances and bonuses besides skewed squad
selections top of the malpractice list.
"During our time, motivation was a problem and we did not
receive even allowances," he added.
"However, we did our best and I feel honoured to have steered
the team to Tunisia despite the problems we underwent. The
federation has done its part by paying the players, and
motivation is high," Otieno said.
To their credit, perhaps having learned bitter lessons from
the past the sitting Football Kenya Federation (FKF)
administration led by Nick Mwendwa has strived to ensure the
players and coaches are paid their allowances in their 2019
AFCON qualifying run.
The team is scheduled to travel to France for a three-week
training camp in May with the domestic league and cup calendar
abridged to end earlier to ensure home players in Migne’s plans
are free to join their foreign based contingent to prepare for
Striker Olunga expects
Kenya to shine at Africa Cup of Nations
by John Kwoba NAIROBI (Xinhua) --
Kenyan international striker Michael Olunga said
Saturday that Kenya will send a stronger team to the Africa Cup
of Nations (AFCON).
Harambee Stars is returning to the AFCON finals for the first
time in 15 years.
"We have a strong team and we have proven that in every
opportunity," Olunga said.
Olunga missed the last Harambee Stars match against Ghana
through injury, but he has recovered and is back playing for his
side Kashiwa Reysol in the Japanese J-League.
Coach Sebastian Migne will, however, wait for medical report
on the fitness of China-based Ayub Timbe of Beijing Renhe, who
underwent a knee surgery in January. Timbe is yet to play
In the Confederation of African Football (CAF) draw of the 24
teams on Friday, Kenya were drawn in Group C alongside Tanzania,
Algeria and Senegal.
Olunga said that Harambee Stars will be ready for the
"To be the best you have to compete with the best. I’m
looking forward to the challenge ahead," Olunga said.