NAIROBI, Kenya, May 30- With less than 48 hours before Harambee Stars lock horns with Malawi the Kenyan camp is fired up to douse The Flames on Saturday in their opening CAF Group F 2014 World Cup qualifier.
Stars head coach, Francis Kimanzi, ended the self-imposed media shut-out on Wednesday declaring that his team rocked by extended debate on availability of their talismatic captain, Dennis Oliech is united and focused to launch their road to Brazil with victory.
“We are almost 80 percent through with the starting line-up. It’s already in our minds it’s just the final confirmation because I’m hoping they stay fit and healthy since it is important and all is looking very good, we are working on the final details of the team,” the tactician asserted.
He conceded the saga surrounding the retirement of the skipper last month over a tussle with team sponsors, East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) over the use of his image in their billboard had ruffled his squad in the build-up to the clash.
“Dennis is a motivator for the team and the entire country because of the belief he brings to the team. It is always good to have an attacking man who you know out of two or three chances, he will give you a goal.
“Using strikers who are unpredictable brings nervousness but now the team is 100 percent united and it is one of the reasons we stayed quiet from the press because we believe that we did not get enough support,” Kimanzi admitted in reference to the French Ligue 1 AJ Auxerre marksman and record scorer who rescinded his decision to step down on Monday.
“When you have challenges in team building or when some players have issues with sponsors or administrators, you need to keep everything quiet until it is through, whether the solution is positive or negative.
“It is important to keep other players away from that since it will be a mess when everybody in camp seems to be in panic over others being in tussle with sponsors or administrators but now that is history,” he further stressed.
“We have every single player we need here, they are motivated and they are ready to do what they like to do most, that is play for their country but some were blowing this issue out of proportion when efforts were being made to get a solution,” Kimanzi assured.
As he prepares to sharpen his players ahead of the encounter at the refurbished Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, the biggest sporting cathedral in the country, the Stars manager is not concerned about their opponents coming to the fixture having pit their wits against neighbours Tanzania and Zanzibar before their Wednesday arrival in Kenya.
“They should be much worried about us also because we have been sharpening ourselves quietly here. It does not mean that when you play ten friendly matches, you are sharper than the one who is preparing without playing.
“What is important is we have had a nice environment to prepare. Psychologically, we might not have played and that gives us reason to beat them since we have been preparing to face an opponent and we are facing one on Saturday. That is Malawi,” Kimanzi who will lead Kenya in a World Cup qualifier since November 2008 stormed.
With Kenya also facing Namibia in their second World Cup qualifier in Windhoek on June 9 and Togo in a 2013 Nations Cup qualifier return leg knock-out fixture on June 15, the coach underlined the need to pick up the momentum on Saturday.
“We still have a few days to prepare for Malawi. Tactically, this will be a different match to Namibia and Togo since both are away matches. We only have a few details to work at from Malawi and we have already faced Togo and we know what to expect.”
Kenya edged Togo 2-1 in the first leg in February in their quest to feature in the Nations Cup for the first time since Tunisia 2004 with Nigeria completing the quartet in Group F who will compete for the single spot that will ensure progress to the elimination phase of the qualifiers.
Kimanzi was re-appointed to the post after being fired in February 2009 having led Kenya to the last and final phase of the 2010 World Cup qualifying.
Oliech, who has top scored for Stars with 31 goals, sunk ten for relegated AJ Auxerre in one of his most productive campaigns in the French top flight with his quit notice dividing the nation as the matter ended in the Kenyan Parliament on three occasions.
Stars will be missing Parma AC Italian Serie A midfielder, McDonald Mariga, who is nursing injury as well as Norway based custodian Arnold Origi, who is expected to return to national duty against Namibia having also stepped down from the side in January.
Scottish league champion and Mariga’s younger brother, Victor Mugubi (Glasgow Celtic), recalled winger Patrick Oboya (MFK Ružomberok/Slovakia) and namesake Patrick Osiako (Petrolul Ploiești/Romania) in midfield as well as Titus Mulama (St Eloi Lupopo/DRC) complete the foreign contingent in the Stars side.
Last season’s Kenyan Premier League Player of the Season, Kevin Kimani, who is unattached is the sixth player on the side who does not feature in the domestic club top flight competition.
AFC Leopards custodian, Patrick Matasi was given leave by the technical bench to seek treatment for Malaria with Sofapaka goalie Duncan Ochieng recalled to the side but he is expected to take his place on the bench on Saturday.
KIMANZI TO PICK FROM
Goalkeepers: Boniface Oluoch (Tusker), Duncan Ochieng (Sofapaka), Patrick Matasi (AFC Leopards).
Defenders: Joseph Shikokoti (Tusker), Jockins Atudo (Tusker), James Mulinge (Ulinzi Stars), James Situma (Sofapaka), Pascal Ochieng’ (Rangers), Brian Mandela (Tusker FC)
Midfielders: Victor Mugubi (Glasgow Celtic), Patrick Osiako (Petrolul Ploiești/Romania), Collins Okoth (Gor Mahia), Kevin Ochieng’ (Gor Mahia), Paul Were (Tusker), Kevin Kimani (Unattached), Jamal Mohammed (Mathare United), Humphrey Mieno (Sofapaka), Clifton Miheso (Thika United), Paul Kiongera (KCB), Dennis Nzomo (Mathare United)
Forwards: Dennis Oliech (AJ Auxerre), Kepha Aswani (Thika United), Patrick Oboya (MFK Ružomberok/Slovakia)