EYES ON
HARAMBEE STARS

as Afcon gets underway

By Dann Owerre & Meshack Kisenge

All eyes are on Harambee Stars as Afcon gets underway Tomorrow (June 21) the whistle goes off as the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations gets underway at the Cairo National Stadium in Egypt. Harambee Stars will be making their sixth trip to the continental showcase, having started their journey in 1972. The team then participated in the games three times in a row: 1988, 1990 and 1992, and were last there in 2004.

Kenya will be making their return to the continental showpiece after 15 years in the cold, ostensibly due to the team’s shambolic preparations ahead of previous qualifiers. A second place finish in the qualifiers was all the team needed to seal a place in the finals, which for the first time will have 24 teams from the initial 16. The five previous outings sadly ended in the preliminary round and the ultimate goal in this edition will be making it to the second round. Kenya are placed in Pool ‘C’, which has Senegal, Algeria and fellow returnees and neighbours Tanzania.

A seller hangs up flags of African countries at a shop, Cairo / REUTERS

A seller hangs up flags of African countries at a shop, Cairo / REUTERS

The Africa Cup of Nations—the continent’s flagship football tournament— started in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1957. This year’s host, Egypt, have won a record seven titles. Cameroon, who beat the Pharaohs 2-1 in the finals in Gabon in the last championship in 2017, have bagged five crowns. The two nations are considered favourites to win, as are Nigeria who have three titles. But waiting in the wings are Ghana, Cote d’ Ivoire, Algeria and Morocco, who have also done well in this event. All these teams have represented the continent at the biggest spectacle of all—the World Cup.

Previous number of wins by country

The difference between the Harambee Stars of today and that of yesteryears is that the national soccer side have a cream of top professionals to choose from. Kenya have a galaxy of stars doing duty for top clubs outside the country, hence, there are high hopes of a first-ever breakthrough. Many fans feel the time to break the duck is now. Out of the 23 players heading to Egypt, only nine feature in the local Kenyan Premier League.

Notable foreign-based players who will be relied on are skipper Victor Wanyama, who plays in England with Tottenham Hotspurs, Japan-based Michael Olunga and Ayub Timbe, who features in the Chinese league. Several local-based coaches have challenged the foreign-based players to replicate their club level displays in the tournament and live up to the country’s expectations. KCB coach Sammy Omollo last week urged the duo of Wanyama and Olunga to single-handedly inspire the team to the elusive knockout stage.

“This is the time we need Wanyama, Olunga and all professional players the most. It’s time they justified their inclusion in the team ahead of local counterparts whom we watch, mentor and know their capacities. They have a responsibility of shouldering the dreams of the country.”

However, former Kenya Football Federation treasurer Noordine Taib points out that this team doesn’t have the togetherness that previous Stars had and might not have an easy time at the tournament.

“Kenya had the best team in 1996. They had what it takes to make the country proud but [the team] was sadly disbanded after the Cecafa tournament in Sudan,” he said. Taib pointed out that that was also the time when the country saw its chance of hosting the event go up in smoke.

"We have to be worried of Tanzania because you do not know what to expect from them. They are equally a good side and pose a major threat to our ambitions of progressing from the group. The team must be careful to avoid an upset from the neighbours."
Former Harambee Star Coach Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee

Coach Sebastien Migne took the team to France, easing fears of shambolic training that has dogged the team over the years. The coach, who named his final 23-man squad 10 days to the tournament, had the opportunity to gauge the team in two friendly fixtures.


Stadium Stats


Stars took on Madagascar in their first friendly match in France, where they won 1-0 before holding DR Congo to a one-all draw last weekend in Madrid, Spain. Kenyans are waiting for results. Taib feels playing friendly matches at home should have been the priority as the fans would have assured the players of their support. “Home friendly matches would have been of added value rather than [going] out there where they have no fans to rally them on. Moreover, we would have given them a really warm send-off.”

Playmaker Francis Kahata had earlier denied succumbing to the pressure of playing away from home. “As the playing unit, we are not under pressure at all. The players, both the senior and young ones, are mature enough and have adapted to playing away from home.”

In the aftermath of their friendly with Congo, which ended in a stalemate, Migne said his charges who leave for Egypt today are ready for what might yet turn out to be a transformation campaign for the Stars.

“We are ready. We have had a good period in training and all the boys are revved up and raring to go. We hope to have a good tournament but what is important is the fact that we have had good preparations for the competition.”
Harambee Stars Coach Sebastien Migne

Former Harambee Stars coach Jacob Mulee has warned Kenyans against underrating some of the teams, especially Tanzania. He said the neigbhour’s team could turn out to be the Stars’ most difficult opponent in Group C. Mulee, who guided the Stars to the tournament in 2004, when Kenya last graced the event, and also coached Tanzanian club Yanga, advised Harambee Stars to be wary of Tanzania and pay total attention when they face them.

“We have to be worried of Tanzania because you do not know what to expect from them. They are equally a good side and pose a major threat to our ambitions of progressing from the group. The team must be careful to avoid an upset from the neighbours.”

Defender Joseph Okumu shares his thoughts and views on the training camp in France and the team's main objective at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Defender Joseph Okumu shares his thoughts and views on the training camp in France and the team's main objective at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Mulee said what the team needs right now is support and not criticism because there is no clear favourite in Afcon going by past editions. He said Stars have quality and all depends on how the coach will handle the team. Mulee is however sure that if Migne can utilise the pace and power of wingers Paul Were and Ayub Timbe, who are capable of unlocking opposition defences, they will go places.

“If Migne can take advantage of the pace possessed by Were and Timbe, who are the team’s creative hub from the flanks, I think our strikers will have chances to score. The players have proved that they are ready to perform at the highest level and this team I am sure will go past the group stage.”
Former Harambee Star Coach Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee

He said the defence is one of Stars string points, having only conceded one goal in qualifiers. Migne has urged Kenyans to lower their expectations and take the pressure off the players to enable them to give their best. Afcon will parade some of the continent’s finest players and Kenya are not left behind as they also boast of captain and team spark plug Wanyama.

The midfielder said the rare preparations for Kenya outside the country boded well for the national team. The holding midfielder will be highly looked upon to skipper the country to the second round as well as instil confidence to the rest of the players when they face familiar opponents who feature in the English Premier League.

“The camp has been very good. We have trained well and it’s all systems go. I know the coaches are just fine-tuning the squad before the showpiece starts in Egypt. We will see how things turn out there,” he said.

The team’s first match will see Stars take on Algeria on June 23. Tanzania will be up next on June 27, before Stars wind up their group stage matches with Senegal on July 1.

The Team



Mulee said what the team needs right now is support and not criticism because there is no clear favourite in Afcon going by past editions. He said Stars have quality and all depends on how the coach will handle the team. Mulee is however sure that if Migne can utilise the pace and power of wingers Paul Were and Ayub Timbe, who are capable of unlocking opposition defences, they will go places.

“If Migne can take advantage of the pace possessed by Were and Timbe, who are the team’s creative hub from the flanks, I think our strikers will have chances to score. The players have proved that they are ready to perform at the highest level and this team I am sure will go past the group stage.”

He said the defence is one of Stars string points, having only conceded one goal in qualifiers. Migne has urged Kenyans to lower their expectations and take the pressure off the players to enable them to give their best. Afcon will parade some of the continent’s finest players and Kenya are not left behind as they also boast of captain and team spark plug Wanyama.

The midfielder said the rare preparations for Kenya outside the country boded well for the national team. The holding midfielder will be highly looked upon to skipper the country to the second round as well as instil confidence to the rest of the players when they face familiar opponents who feature in the English Premier League.

“The camp has been very good. We have trained well and it’s all systems go. I know the coaches are just fine-tuning the squad before the showpiece starts in Egypt. We will see how things turn out there,” he said.

The team’s first match will see Stars take on Algeria on June 23. Tanzania will be up next on June 27, before Stars wind up their group stage matches with Senegal on July 1.

Coach Sebastien Migne shares his thoughts on Harambee Stars' preparations.

Coach Sebastien Migne shares his thoughts on Harambee Stars' preparations.