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Will 2011 be the watershed year for Kenyan football?

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NAIROBI, Kenya, December 29- Will 2011 go down in history as the year that Kenyan football marked its watershed?

After many false dawns in latter years, the country’s version of the beautiful games looks set for a renaissance after a sequence of events turned around the football landscape especially in the final third when a new federation was ushered to run the sport.

The October 28 joint elections that brought an end to the divisive era of Football Kenya Limited (FKL) and Kenya Football Federation (KFF) saw Kenya join the international football body in having a sole governing body.

However, in line with the degrading trend of preceding years, Kenya, perceived as a regional powerhouse, ended its football year with the ignominy of crashing out meekly in the group stages of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup that ended on December 10.

The shameful exit came at the backdrop of renewed optimism following the election of a new Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and the re-appointment of Francis Kimanzi as national team Harambee Stars head coach.

If anything, the Tanzania CECAFA tournament won by bitter rivals Uganda illustrated the wide the gulf Kenya has to bridge to match their East African neighbours, let alone the continent and entire world.

Malawi stunned Stars 2-0 in their opener before victory by a similar margin against Ethiopia revived hopes that were swiftly dashed when Sudan sent them packing from Dar-es-Salaam courtesy of a 1-0 reverse.

“What did you expect?” Kimanzi posed when the side made a low-key return. “We did not have enough time to prepare since our league only ended two days before we travelled and that is where most of my players came from.”

He added: “I carried all the top scorers from our league and none performed. Re-building this team will be a patient progress and we have to work on each department at a time.”

Kimanzi, branded in local circles as a miracle worker, led the country to the final round qualifiers of the 2010 World Cup before he was unceremoniously bundled out of his post in February 2009.

However, even he admitted his magic touch alone is not enough to fix what has been a chronic affliction of the country’s football as epitomised by the fortunes of their national side.

“Unless we have proper planning, proper structures and nurturing young players, we will continue to miss out on major tournaments. It is my hope that the new office will give the technical bench all the support and time to implement our programmes,” he charged.

Kenya enjoyed a roaring start to 2011 when their national team overcame Angola 2-1 in Nairobi on March 26 in a 2012 Africa Nations Cup Group J qualifier in Nairobi where midfielder Jamal Mohammed and a last minute effort from Inter Milan midfielder, MacDonald Mariga cancelled out Manucho’s first half effort.

Then under Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno, Stars lost the return in Luanda 1-0 to a controversial Manucho goal in June before another late strike from captain Dennis Oliech saw out a battling Guinea Bissau 2-1 in Nairobi on September 11.

It left Stars needing to win away to archrivals Uganda in their last qualifier on October 8 but with the Cranes also needing three points to secure their first Nations Cup appearance for 27 years, the match ended in a hard fought 0-0 stalemate that knocked both out of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Around the same time, the national elections for a proposed new governing body that saw Fifa and the Government partner in a bid to end the impasse that had seen Football Kenya Limited and Kenya Football Federation (KFF) claim to be legitimate administrators were neigh.

Throughout the months preceding the October 28 stated poll date, the electoral process that was managed by the Interim Electoral Board (IEB) had been rocked by delays with the exercise postponed on four separate occasions since December last year when it was first penned.

IEB roped in the Independent Interim Electoral Commission (now Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission) to conduct the exercise that saw Samson Nyamweya, the erstwhile chair of KFF trounce his FKL rival, Mohammed Hatimy and five others to bag the top post.

Nyamweya wasted no time to stamp his authority, re-appointing Kimanzi as the national team head coach within a week of election, pledging a new constitution within 90 days, travelling to Zurich to meet Fifa boss, Sepp Blatter and renaming the new governing body FKF among a raft of other measures.

Kimanzi’s first task at the helm was to navigate through two 2014 Fifa World Cup pre-qualifying knock-out ties against Seychelles and on November 12, they registered their first away victory since 2003 when they beat the Pirates 3-0.

In the second leg in Nairobi three days later, Stars raced to a 4-0 victory to complete a 7-0 thrashing that ensures they join Malawi, Nigeria and Namibia in the race for the Brazil World Cup in their qualifying group.

During 2011, Kenya sunk to their lowest Fifa Coca-Cola ranking of 135 in June before latest figures saw the country enjoy a 13 place jump from position 133 to 120 in December.

At least, there is a silver lining.

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