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Will Harambee Stars spoil the party for Uganda Cranes again?

FOOTBALL By Ochieng Oyugi | November 11th 2021 | 3 min read


Harambee Stars defender Joseph Okumu and Nsibambi Paul of Uganda Cranes during their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifier Group E first leg match at Nyayo Stadium in September. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Harambee Stars renew their rivalry with Uganda Cranes when the two sides collide in today's Group E return leg match of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers at St Mary’s Kitende Stadium, Kampala.

While second-placed Cranes (eight points) will be seeking to keep their qualifications hopes alive with a win ahead of Sunday's away match against group leaders Mali (10 points), the Kenyans are out to redeem themselves after a humiliating 6-0 on aggregate defeat to Mali last month.

Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat whose contract ends this month has been boosted by the availability of KAA Genk defender Joseph Okumu who had withdrawn from the team with a minor injury.

Though the Turkish tactician is pleased with the blend of experience and youthful players in his 24-man squad that will be captained by Qatar-based striker Michael Olunga, he has challenged the players to replicate their first half performance against Mali at Nyayo Stadium in the East African derby.

"This is a well balanced team. I want them to play like they did against Mali in the first half at Nyayo Stadium," said Firat.

He further called upon fans to rally and support the team, especially on Tuesday when Harambee Stars play Rwanda in their final group match at Nyayo Stadium.

But for Olunga, who has been involved in a number of East African derbies, he knows how important the Uganda match means to them.

The today's fixture will rekindle the 2012 AFCON qualifiers in Kampala where Kenya denied Cranes a chance to qualify for the continental finals in Gabon after frustrating them to a barren draw.

“We still have a lot to fight for, we push till the end as we build for the future," said the Al Duhail FC forward.

"It’s an East African Derby and so we have to fight for our pride and ensure that we come back home with a positive result."

Olunga indicated they already have a strategy for the game.

At the same time, the captain admitted the Stars striking force has been blunt of late with no goals to celebrate in their last two fixtures.

"I have urged my fellow strikers to step up our game. We are also trying to work hard as a team generally to end the goal drought," said Olunga.

"We've been creating good chances but failing to utilise them. We are going to try to maximise on the opportunities we get against Uganda."

Football Kenya Federation Nick Mwendwa has wished the team well stating the federation is building a squad for the future, especially for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that kicks off next year.

"Kindly go to Uganda and fight for the country," Mwendwa told the players when the federation hosted the team to a dinner party in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Kenya and Uganda battled to a barren draw in the opening leg at Nyayo Stadium on September 2.

The two nations have always had cut-throat battles when playing each other, with their last four outings ending in draws.

The last time Kenya defeated the Ugandans was in 2015, during the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup. Kenya won 2-0.

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