President Uhuru Kenyatta receives the FIFA World Cup Trophy. The trophy was handed to the Head of State by legendary Brazilian footballer Juliano Belleti, a World Cup winning defender, who is accompanying it on the tour. [PSCU /Standard]

Football’s greatest prize, the Fifa World Cup trophy, finally arrived in the country yesterday ahead of this year’s finals in Qatar.

And that’s the closest Harambee Stars players and their fans will ever come to the prestigious crown in as many years.

Interestingly, the 6.1 kilogram 18-karat gold original World Cup trophy is in the country barely two months since world football governing body, Fifa, suspended Kenya from all international football activities due to government interference. 

The trophy which is in Nairobi for a two-day tour courtesy of Fifa and Coca-Cola was warmly welcomed yesterday by President Uhuru Kenyatta, government officials and former Harambee Stars players. 

This is the fourth time the trophy has landed in Nairobi following similar stops in 2010, 2014 and 2018 ahead of the World Cup tournaments in South Africa, Brazil and Russia respectively.

Even though Kenya’s fortunes in football have not been bountiful, President Kenyatta said football is nonetheless a strong part of the country’s national fabric and it remains the most popular sport.

“On behalf of the Government and the people of Kenya, it is an honour to be part of the 51 countries and territories that are part of the global tour of the sport’s most acclaimed trophy. I thank FIFA and all its partners, including Coca-Cola, for making this global tour a possibility and the stop in Kenya, a reality,” said President Kenyatta.

At hand to receive the trophy upon arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) was Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, Tourism CS Najib Balala and Industrialisation CS Betty Maina.

Accompanying the trophy that landed at JKIA at noon was Brazilian legend Juliano Belletti who stepped out from the plane, smiling and waving at the capacity crowd that thronged the JKIA airwing side.

Belletti placed then placed the trophy on a specially made red-carpet stand near the plane door-step for a brief viewing by the crowd.

Giant beverage company Coca-Cola brought together 20 ex-internationals who helped the President to receive the trophy at State House.

They included former Harambee Stars skipper Musa Otieno, Mickey Weche, Peter Dawo, Allan Thigo, Vitalis Owuor and Boniface Ambani among others.

While hailing Coca-Cola for bringing the trophy home, Otieno said: “This is a great moment for the players, last time the cup was in Kenya there was no former player who was closer to it.

“The trophy coming to the country despite the Fifa suspension we are having simply implies that there is something good that Kenya has that we are not seeing.”

He added: “A lot of individuals are aiming or are living on football, as ex-internationals we hope to talk one or two things with the President so that we can have peace in the game,” he said.

Otieno reiterated that the sport should be run by people who played it because they understand the game better.

He also appealed to stakeholders to come together to help put Kenyan house in order in the discipline.

“I believe we can change things in Kenyan football for the better,” said Otieno.

The former Santos and AFC Leopards defender agreed that the current suspension is hurting upcoming players whose talents are now on the brink of collapsing.

“We made mistakes in our playing days, we should now step in as former players to help the current generation not to repeat the same problems we did,” he said.

Otieno’s sentiments were echoed by former Yanga SC striker Boniface Ambani who brought his State House Football Academy team to have a glimpse of the trophy at State House.

“This is such a great moment for my young players who have only been watching the trophy on TV,” said Ambani.

“I’m happy that today they will see the real cup. I believe the trophy will motivate them to train hard when they get back home.”

On his side, Belletti said he was happy to visit Kenya for the first time, especially with the revered trophy.

“It’s really a great honour to be here, I hope Kenyan people will enjoy the trophy and its stay in the country,” said Beletti.

The former Chelsea and Barcelona defender won the trophy with the star-studded Brazil squad during the 2002 World Cup finals co-hosted by Korea and Japan.

The trophy will be paraded at KICC today for public viewing and photo shoot.

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