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How Stars bottled chance to play at Afcon next year

FOOTBALL By Rodgers Eshitemi | March 27th 2021
Tito Okello (Left) of South Sudan contest for the ball with Johnstone Omurwa (Centre) and Cliff Nyakeya during their Friendly match at Nyayo national stadium on March 13, 2021. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

10-man Harambee Stars might have shown some bravery in the 1-1 draw against African giants Egypt on Thursday night, but the fact remains that they shot themselves in the foot in the underwhelming 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers campaign.

Stars put in a spirited fight with Abdallah Hassan cancelling out Mohamed Magdi Kafsha’s early goal to help the East African nation secure a point against a technically superior side.

This was Kenya’s third home draw and fourth of the campaign.

But unfortunately, the national team had already bowed out of the rescheduled biannual continental tournament to be held in Cameroon early next year (January-February), even before the kick off of their second last Group G tie at Kasarani Stadium after joint group leaders Comoros had held Togo to a barren draw in Moroni.

The result saw the Pharaohs go level on nine points with Comoros and consequently secure their tickets to Cameroon ahead of Monday’s group winner decider between the two sides in Cairo.

And even as Stars travel to Lome for the dead rubber encounter against the bottom-rooted Sparrow Hawks the same day, they will have to wait for at least three years for them to qualify for the continental showpiece slated for June and July 2023 in the Ivory Coast.

Though a new-look Kenya took a lot of positives from the second consecutive 1-1 draw against the Pharaohs that saw the likes of Eric Ouma and Daniel Sakari reduce Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah and his Aston Villa counterpart Mahmoud Trezeguet to ordinary players, it is quite disappointing for them, a team that featured in last edition’s finals in Egypt.

“Unlucky with the chances yesterday but proud of how the team responded especially after the early setback. Good outing especially from @erick_marcelo_ouma and @sakari_dan,” Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga posted on his face book page after the game.

But the sad truth is Stars bottled their qualification chances way back in November when they easily donated four points to Comoros a few days after the sacking of coach Francis Kimanzi.

Kimanzi was on a rebuilding process after replacing his former boss Sebastiane Migne in August 2019 and he was almost getting his preferred squad to finish off the campaign before all hell broke loose.

Kenya’s inability to win their home matches coupled by Michael Olunga’s absence for the Comoros fixture due to Covid-19 travelling restrictions and failure of key players like Japan-based winger Ayub Timbe to rise to the occasion further complicated their qualification chances.

Unlike their opponents, Stars failed to make Kasarani Stadium a fortress as they drew all their home group games with an identical scoreline of 1-1.

Having frustrated Egypt to a barren draw at their own back yard in their opening group match on November 14 2019, many Kenyans had expected Stars to stroll to victory over Togo at Kasarani four days later.

But that never came to pass as Kimanzi's men threw away a first half lead to draw 1-1 with the Sparrow Hawks, who had been upset 1-0 by Comoros in Lome on match day one.

Then came a match against Comoros on November 11, 2020, at Kasarani. This is a game they could, and should, have won easily more so after their player maker Youssouf M'Changama was sent off in the first half.

But instead of capitalising on both home and numerical advantage, Kenya only managed to get a draw before losing 2-1 in Moroni four days later as the effects of Kimanzi’s sacking started to take a toll on their performance. This is exactly where they jeopardised their qualification campaign.

And for the purpose of stability, former AFC Leopards striker and now academic, Maurice Khayota has challenged Football Kenya Federation (FKF) to fully support Mulee in his rebuilding process.

“The draw and failure to qualify for AFCON 2021 is disappointing but there was a drastic improvement in Harambee Stars’ performance within a very short time of Mulee’s tenure,”said Khayota who holds a PhD in Management and a BA in Agricultural Economics.   

“Kenya created several scoring opportunities against a technically superior Egyptian team that has played together for so many years.

“Conceding a goal after only two minutes against Egypt, a team that has been beating them over the years, one would have expected the boys to collapse but they showed a fighting spirit to score and even hold out when they went a man down.”

Save for Kenya and Tanzania, who have already been locked out, Cecafa nations led by Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan all still have a chance to progress to the finals.

In the last edition in Egypt, the East African region was represented by four teams namely Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.  

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