AFCON: Hopes and wishes as Harambee Stars prepare for crucial ties

Harambee Stars' Abdalla Hassan celebrating during a friendly match against Taifa Stars at Nyayo National stadium on Monday, March 15, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

There’s nothing left now but prayers for Harambee Stars

Olunga’s return gives new-look national team more optimism ahead of Egypt, Togo matches.

When everything goes against plan, the only sensible route to take is permutations, wishes, hopes and prayers.

Yes, Kenya find themselves at this point, yet again as 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifiers enter penultimate stage across the continent this week. And all that begins today.

While there is still some growing sense of belief within Harambee Stars’ camp ahead of their final two Group G matches against Egypt and Togo, newly appointed national team captain Michael Olunga knows how difficult it is going to be for the East African nation to revive their ‘slim’ qualification chances.

Kenya, who are placed third with three points in group G, host joint group leaders Egypt tomorrow night at Kasarani Stadium before wrapping up their qualification campaign with an away match against bottom rooted Togo on March 29.

But having missed the two legged-fixtures against Comoros last year (November) due to Covid-19 related restrictions, Olunga, who joined Qatar giants Al-Duhail SC from Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol in January, sounds somewhat hopeful of making the impossible possible on his return to the team.

July 6, 2019 Egypt's Mohamed Salah applauds fans after the match [REUTERS]

“Of course, I feel great to be back in the team after a long absence. Just getting a call up back to the national team is a motivation in itself and I’m humbled to have gotten the task to help my country. I hope we are going to have a good experience in the upcoming two fixtures,” said Olunga, who scored the equaliser in Kenya’s famous 1-1 draw against Egypt in the first leg in Cairo in November 2019.

Though Kenya are technically out of contention going by their results in the opening four matches (three draws and a loss), they could still return to the continental finals.

But first, football gods must okay their journey. For Kenya to play in the tournament, Egypt and Comoros must drop points in their remaining two fixtures.

The maximum points Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee and his boys can garner, if they beat the Pharaohs and Sparrow Hawks, is nine, one more than the current points of the joint leaders Egypt and Comoros.

Egypt and Comoros face off in their final group match in Cairo on Monday. And even if Kenya upsets Egypt tomorrow, they need to pray that Togo complicates Comoros’ chances by beating them in Moroni. Tough luck that.

Olunga’s absence had a significant factor in the result against Comoros where they donated four points (1-1 and 2-1) following the profligacy in their attack and lack of composure in the box.

And a few days after taking the captaincy from Montreal Impact midfielder Victor Wanyama, the former Gor Mahia and Djurgårdens IF forward is keen to lead a new-look national team to greater heights.

“We all know the caliber of teams Egypt and Togo are because we have played them in previous matches. But I think it is going to be a different ball game altogether because of our current position in the group,” said Olunga.

Meanwhile, Eric Kapaito and Joseph Okumu will, however, miss the tie Egypt tie with injuries.

The Mohamed Salah-led Egypt were expected to arrive last night ahead of the match tomorrow.

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