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Harambee Stars focus on upcoming Egypt encounter ahead of Kenya vs South Sudan today

FOOTBALL By Rodgers Eshitemi | March 13th 2021
Harambee Stars players Kenneth Muguna (Left) and Abdalla Hassan reacts during morning training session at Nyayo national stadium on March 12, 2021 ahead of their Three Friendly matches and Two Africa cup of Nations Qualifiers in the month of March 2021. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Mulee says Kenya have 2021 Afcon qualifying fate in their own hands as they face South Sudan in a friendly match at Nyayo National Stadium today

Harambee Stars head coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee believes the national team’s fate in the 2021 African Cup of Nations Qualifiers is in their own hands ahead of today’s friendly match against South Sudan at Nyayo Stadium.

Stars have lined up three friendly matches starting with South Sudan (March 13) followed by Tanzania (March 15 and 18) as part of their preparation for their last two Group G qualifier matches against visiting joint group leaders Egypt on March 25 and away to bottom rooted Togo on March 29.

Though third-placed Kenya (three points) are technically out of contention if their results in the opening four matches is anything to go by (three draws and a loss), Mulee feels an unlikely win against the Pharaohs at Kasarani Stadium could revive their ‘slim’ qualification chances depending on the results of other teams.

Harambee Stars players (from left) Erick Johanna, Johanna Omollo, Masud Juma, Cliff Nyakeya, Victor Wanyama and Joseph Okumu leave the pitch after their 1-1 draw against Comoros in Africa Cup of Nations Group G qualifying match at Kasarani Stadium on Wednesday, November 11, 2020. [Kelly Ayodi/Standard]

“It is a difficult question to answer on our chances against Egypt and Togo. We drew with Egypt in Cairo, but they are leading the group this time and we are looking at a possibility of bettering the results that we got in the first leg,” said Mulee.

“If we do, it means that we beat Egypt at home and boost our chances before we play Togo in our last game. It is a very tricky game because the result in that game will determine our qualification chances before travelling to Togo; whether we are completely out or we have a slim chance of coming back.”

“The South Sudan and Tanzania friendlies will gauge where we are as local-based players ahead of the Egypt match. We want to see how best they can compete internationally,” said Mulee.

But Mulee is not taking any chances against today’s opponents after watching them upset Uganda 1-0 through Gor Mahia striker Tito Okello’s penalty kick in their Afcon qualifiers fixture at Nyayo Stadium in November last year.

“In their last qualifiers, South Sudan shocked Uganda here at Nyayo Stadium and for me that’s a big statement. As Kenyans, we always want to play top teams like Algeria, but we have to understand that we had to secure all these friendlies outside the Fifa window to gauge our local-based players,” he explained.

CECAFA: South Sudan team at Bukhungu on Dec 5, 2017. [BENJAMIN SAKWA]

While he bemoaned Friday’s injury of KCB midfielder Michael Mutinda, who will have to undergo a late fitness test today, Mulee said he has enough options to fill his void.

“We have a couple of midfielders like Shichenje (Collins), Juma (Lawrence) and Muguna (Kenneth) who can play in that position in case Mutinda doesn’t make it because of his injury. But every player here has been called up on merit and from their performance in training and club level, I think everybody is ready for the games. They have to prove to us that they can transform their club form to the national team level,” said Mulee.

Stand-in captain Kenneth Muguna (Gor Mahia) and AFC Leopards striker Elvis Rupia both feel this is an opportunity for local players to prove their worth.

“We are not under any pressure and we trust our capabilities. I think the new faces and youngsters in the team have already shown in the league that they deserve to be in the national team. Their confidence is encouraging and that’s the most important thing in football,” said Muguna. “I have had a good run in the league and I have also scored a number of goals in the training, so I hope to carry form into the upcoming international matches.”

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