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How did it all go wrong for Harambee Stars?

FOOTBALL By Washington Onyango | October 12th 2021
Harambee Stars Richard Odada (left) and Hamari Traore of Mali during 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers return match at the Nyayo National stadium. Oct 10, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

It is often said that the great always cast a shadow even in their absence, but given how Harambee Stars performed in the last two 2022 World Cup qualifying matches against Mali, it surely left emptiness that will take a while to fill.

Kenya’s dreams of playing in their first ever Fifa World Cup finals went up in smoke after Mali emerged 1-0 winners in the return leg of the Group E qualifiers played in Nairobi on Sunday. This is following Harambee Stars’ 5-0 defeat at the hands of Mali last Thursday.

The two consecutive loses left Stars third in the standings with two points, eight behind leaders Mali. The results and overall performance proved that, once again, the national team was just not good enough.

It was a case of broken promises, shattered dreams to some and utter disappointment to others. This was not meant to happen, but it surely did.

Harambee Stars were meant to make a mark in their long-overdue World Cup sojourn, but in the end, it was tears, disenchantment and bewilderment.

Mali remains top of Group E with 10 points after the win and remains on course to fight for the solitary ticket to proceed to the next round.

Uganda, who beat Rwanda 1-0 in Kampala, are second with eight points.

But the biggest question is, did Football Kenya Federation’s decision to replace Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee with Turkish tactician Engin Firat given his poor track record in his previous work stations like Moldova send Kenya to its own grave yard?

FKF just shot themselves in the foot when they unceremoniously fired Mulee in the middle of a World Cup campaign. He had started building the team’s chemistry and was enjoying a six-match unbeaten run.

With a contract of two months, Firat gambled with his line up in the two crucial matches against Mali staged at Stade Adrar in Agadir, Morocco and Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi.

In the first leg, Firat’s line up faced backlash from fans on social media after he played some experienced players out of position and benched natural wingers.

It was a grave mistake to start Joash Onyango on right back where he endured a torrid time against a pacy Southampton winger Moussa Djenepo, while benching the natural right back Daniel Sakari.

Harambee Stars Coach Engin Firat during the unveiling of a new national team Harambee Stars' partner, Mozzart Bet and team training for 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers return match against Mali at the Nyayo National stadium. Oct 9, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The Simba SC player could have partnered Joseph Okumu, but it was the inexperienced Johnstone Omurwa who was preferred.

Kenya had no natural winger, all were benched, with Henry Meja and Michael Olunga the only attackers. 

Abud Omar, a left back, and Eric Ouma exchanged roles on the left flank until Eric Zakayo came on for Lawrence Juma.

Firat’s gamble with the squad was even more evident at the start of the second half when he replaced Ian Otieno with Farouk Shikalo who ended up conceding a cheap goal

The Eagles, who have no national football league running, had a walk in the park dispossessing Kenya with ease.

In the second leg, despite a much improved performance, Kenya wasted a host of chances.

This begs another question, was Firat the right option of getting Kenya to Qatar? Nobody was satisfied with the ‘termination of contract by mutual consent’ explanation when both Francis Kimanzi and Mulee were released.


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