Why Kenya’s AFCON race is not done until fat lady FIFA sings

DP William Ruto accompanied by sports officials during Harambee Stars Africa Cup of Nations at Kasarani Stadium [Courtesy]

A day after Kenya played Ethiopia, the media was awash with praise for the national football team.

Most media outlets went on to publish ‘absurd’ declarations, proclaiming how finally our soccer was back on track.

Leading newspapers carried exciting https://cdn.standardmedia.co.ke/images taken inside the stadium, with our politicians literally doing a Maasai jump at the VIP stand. These politicians, clad in national team colours, thought Kenya had qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2019.

Unknown to the waheshimiwa, our qualification was to be determined by the fate of Sierra Leone. I blame it all on local organisers for not providing waheshimiwa with the right information.

Often, whenever a VIP is to attend such a significant event, it is upon the organisers to ‘feed’ them with accurate information so that they can appreciate the outcome of the contest they are presiding over.

Huyu ndiyo Oliech?

On that day, however, the body language of a retinue of VIPs would have put any doubters and haters to shame. To them, Kenya had qualified for Afcon. Any contrary interpretation would have been repelled.

Since entry into the stadium was saree, the venue was packed to the brim. Most of the spectators were setting foot on the facility for the first time. Others were seeing Harambee Stars for the first time; the sort of fans who would point at Ismael Gonzalez and ask, ‘Mazee huyu ndiyo Oliech?’

Leaders watch the match from the VIP stands [Courtesy]

As true Kenyans — or what our politicians call ‘the Kenyan people’ — all and sundry responded to a resounding patriotic call to support our nation.

Sometimes we take our fake patriotism too far, and our leaders are the worst when it comes to shedding fake tears.

Then followed pledges, promises of training abroad and loads of cash for the mboys.

Truth is that our chances of appearing at Afcon remain unknown until Fifa clears Sierra Leone, which means Ghana can still beat us to the tape. What shall we tell DP William Ruto and all the wadosi who were jumping up and down in the VVIP cubicle at Kasarani? 

It would have been wise to advise them to tone down their excitement because it is not over until the fat lady sings. The fat lady in this case is FIFA. It appears nobody told them that our fate was not determined by that lone match against Ethiopia.

In qualifiers like Afcon and World Cup, it is safer to closely monitor the performance of all teams in your group to gauge your chances of topping the table. In other cases, organisers require play-offs amongst the best losers. The winner is then enjoined in the group of table toppers.

There are also cases when all teams are on a dead-rubber situation, where the winner is determined by the number of goals scored or conceded. Lastly, we have unfortunate cases where the winner is picked depending on the number of red cards or yellow cards picked during the tournament or qualifiers.

I am sure some of the first-timers who were at Kasarani that evening only think that in situations where there is a tie, penalties are the only option.

I remember the days when Baba Moi used to attend football matches. Whenever he arrived, he would order organisers to open the gates and let the fans in for free. People assumed he was generous and free-spirited. Others thought that as a politician, he cherished having the crowd around him.

One day, he did that and Nyayo Stadium was packed to the rafters. Gor Mahia were playing a team from Togo. As usual, K’Ogalo were in their green jerseys and the visiting team in red. Moi arrived atop the presidential limousine waving at fans from the Merc’s sunroof. His outriders cruised into the stadium and did one lap of honour around the athletic track. Immediately, the gates were opened and all the walala hoi or hoi polloi poured into the stadium.

Moi windfall

I found myself squeezed between two people who were not your typical football fan. They happened to be passing by Lang’ata Road when they heard about the Moi windfall. They realised Gor Mahia was playing, but being strangers, they were not familiar with the team jersey colours.

To confirm, when they sat down, one asked me which teams were playing. I told him it was Gor Mahia vs Entente Deux FC of Togo. To put it in Kiswahili; “Kina nani wanacheza?” I answered, “Ni timu kutoka Togo na Gor Mahia”. He continued: “Gor Mahia ndiyo wamevaa red?” I told him, “Hapana, wamevaa green yao ya kawaida”. I thought he would stop there, until he dropped the most idiotic question: “Na hiyo timu ya Togo, wamevaa colour gani?!” You can guess my answer to that journeyman of a soccer fan.

I can assure you they were many at Kasarani when we played Ethiopia, no wonder they thought Harambee Stars had finished the job.

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