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Cecafa Challenge 2017: After dicey political situation attention turns to stadia as Senior Challenge Cup begins

Last updated 2 years ago | By Gilbert Wandera and Rodgers Eshitemi

Harambee Stars The National Football Team Harambee Stars players trains during open media session at Utalii Grounds on November 30, 2017. Photo/Stafford Ondego/www.sportpicha.com

Why spotlight is on Kenya

Tame national team, below par infrastructure and with the country’s penchant for disorganisation, fans don’t know what to expect.

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Africa’s oldest regional football tournament, the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup kicks off today in two Kenyan towns and inevitably putting it under international spotlight once again.

This time though it will be a limelight of a sporting kind with Kenya having negotiated through a dicey political situation although others will argue it is not yet over.

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On the pitch, national football team, Harambee Stars, fans and coaches are scratching their heads over lack of firepower in Paul Put’s side that has seen it slide down to 111 position, in the latest Fifa rankings.

Off it, Kenya will be hoping to put up a good show to atone being overlooked by continental football body, Caf, in her bid to host second tier Africa Nations Championship. Caf cited Kenya’s below par sports infrastructure.

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In 2013 Cecafa finals, Kenya’s opponents Sudan were detained for two hours in their team hotel after Football Kenya Federation failed to settle their bills, before the hosts strolled to a 2-0 victory.

Whether the hosts have learnt a lesson or two will become clearer by the time the tournament enters its final stages.

For now, however, Kenya’s former national team coach James Nandwa, who was on the bench the last time Harambee Stars won the Senior Challenge Cup on home soil, feels the team lacks the wherewithal in striking department.

Kenya takes on Rwanda in today’s opening match at Bukhungu Stadium and Nandwa insists it will be necessary to bridge Harambee Stars apparent colourless strike force.

“The fact is our league has not been very competitive when you consider that the league winners had 24 points more than the second placed team," Nandwa said. “Furthermore, when you consider the league’s top scorer had 17 goals, you feel we have a long way to go. But this can be bridged by hard work from the players,” .

He pointed out that a striking crisis that has dogged the team in the last 18 months could affect the Stars' chances of doing well in the regional tournament. “We have had a problem with the strike force resulting in our poor finishing. Therefore every player who gets a chance to play must give it their best to ensure that we win the tournament.”

While teams will be battling on the pitch, the Local Organising Committee will be working hard to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing 2013 scenario.

“The biggest issue has always been accommodation. We have put in a lot of work to avoid a repeat of the 2013 incidences. We cannot rule out a few challenges, but as the hosting federation, we are determined to hold a successful tournament,” FKF president Nick Mwendwa said. 

“And since it is a rainy season, we have set up Mumias and Kasarani as back up venues for Bukhungu and Machakos respectively. But we are still looking at a possibility of taking some of the matches to Kisumu.”

Mwendwa’s sentiments were echoed by Cecafa Secretary General Nicholas Musonye, who backed the country to stage successful event.

“As far as I am concerned, we are ready and set for the competition. Nothing is going to stop us from organising a successful competition. You can see the commitment from the county governments, who have done a very good job in improving the venues,” Musonye said.

“We have Azam TV and the Kenyan Government on board; we are combining forces to make sure the tournament is competitive and successful.”