Francis Kimanzi has admitted the clock is ticking on Harambee Stars players’ battle for fitness ahead of tomorrow’s (4pm) international friendly match against Zambia’s Chipolopolo at the Nyayo National Stadium.
This will be the first football match of note in Kenya since sports activities were shut by the government after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in March.
Both Kenya and Zambia will be using the fixture, to be played behind closed doors, to prepare for next month’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers.
As Kenya will be battling out with Comoros in a two-legged Group G encounter, Zambia will be facing Botswana in Group H ties.
Zambia were due to play the Flames of Malawi in their first post-coronavirus build up game last evening at the National Heroes Stadium before flying to Nairobi today morning.
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The former African champions emerged victorious (2-1) when the two teams last met in a 2017 Afcon qualifiers match in Nairobi.
And with most of the dependable foreign-based players led by captain Victor Wanyama (Montreal Impact, Canada) and on-form Kashiwa Reysol striker Michael Olunga having withdrawn from the team due to coronavirus-related travelling restrictions, coach Kimanzi has no option but to bank on the local-based players.
Other key players from the initial 34-man squad who will miss the fixture are experienced goalkeeper Arnold Origi (HIFK, Finland), Ayub Timbe (Beijing Renhe, China) and Johanna Omolo (Cercle Brugge K.S.V, Belgium).
Sweden based defender Joseph Okumu is also doubtful.
Though the team has been holding two training sessions per day since Sunday, Kimanzi is still unsure whether his boys will be fit enough to compete against the Zambians.
“We’ve only 72 hours before the game. Of course, the fitness level is always an issue especially when we have a group dominated by local players or so and most of them have not been competing for the last six and half months now,” Kimanzi said after Tuesday’s training session at Kasarani Stadium.
“So, we don’t expect to have a top level in terms of fitness but at least we can be somewhere to compete. We are trying to build a base for competition but again there is not time.”
Unlike Kimanzi, Chipolopolo coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic has named a strong squad for the their three friendlies against Botswana, Kenya and South Africa.
Save for Red Bull Salzburg duo of Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu, the Serbian has most of their foreign-based players at his disposal.
KV Oostende (Belgium) striker Fashion Sakala, Djurgårdens IF’s (Sweden) Edward Chilufya, Lubambo Musonda (Slask Wroclaw-Poland), Evans Kangwa and Kings Kangwa (both Arsenal Tula, Russia) are available for selection.
Captain Kabaso Chongo leads the Africa-based legion alongside his TP Mazembe teammate Tandi Mwape and SuperSport Gampani Lungu.
Simba’s Clatous Chama and Azam’s Aubrey Chirwa were both dropped.