For the first time in many matches, Kenyan fans were all smiles as they left Kasarani Stadium after watching a new-look national team, Harambee Stars put in a spirited performance to battle back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Uganda Cranes in Sunday’s international friendly match.
Though Stars drew, it is their never-say-die attitude and confidence from the team largely made up of local-based players with six debutants that restored some faith and hope in the hearts of many supporters.
With most of the key players missing in action, Francis Kimanzi, who is in his third stint as Stars coach, was brave enough to give the sextet of Collins Agade, Samuel Olwande, Lawrence Juma, Boniface Muchiri, Amai Atariza and Johnstone Omurwa their senior team debuts.
But it is Kimanzi’s tactical prowess that earned Harambee Stars their 23rd draw against the Cranes since 1926.
Stars chased the Ugandans’ shadows in the first half, but they did not give up and played with hunger in the second half.
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After falling behind to Emmanuel Okwi’s 23rd minute goal, the former Mathare United trainer took the bulls by the horns to bring on attack-minded Whyvonne Isuza for Agade on the stroke of halftime and pushed Kenneth Muguna forward.
His decision paid off five minutes into the second half when Muguna scored his first national team goal to cancel out Okwi’s opener as the hosts then controlled possession.
And having led Kenya to 68th place in the Fifa rankings — Star’s best ever position — in his first stint in 2008-2009 before making a return between 2011 and 2012, Kimanzi said he is prepared to put his faith in the new players ahead of next month’s two friendlies against Libya and Mozambique before the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers in November.
“We haven’t had enough time to be with these players, but I was impressed with how they carried themselves on the pitch. There are a lot of positives from the new players, but I can’t say they are there already because we have only had 90 minutes,’’ said Kimanzi.
“But the good thing is that we have two other matches before we start the qualifiers. If they can manage the pressure in the next two friendlies before Egypt then I think we can increase our depth because I see they’ve got something and they’ve that belief, but what they need to do is to cope with the intensity of this level.”
He added: “We’ve to think about the future as we talk about the present which is equally important because we’ve very good players that did a very great job two and half months ago. We still have that as part of our inventory, but I think we also need to start thinking about tomorrow. Of course, it’s for the coach to make the decision, but I think I will be brave enough and give them an opportunity.”