NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 12 – Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi has a fully fit squad at his disposal from which to select the starting 11 for Tuesday’s Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Senior Challenge Cup final against hosts Uganda.,
Kimanzi told Capital Sport that the players were physically ready for the match despite having to endure a bruising battle against Tanzania in Sunday’s semi final.
"We sustained a lot of very serious knocks but everybody is fine, we did our player inventories and we are lucky that there are no injuries that can keep a player out of the final," said Kimanzi, who is the youngest coach at the tournament at 32 years of age.
Stars edged out Taifa Stars 2-1 in a fractious encounter that left its mark on striker Mike Baraza, Tom Ajwang and Osborne Monday.
Uganda, buoyed by their vociferous home crowd at the Nambole Stadium overran Burundi 5-0 in a one sided encounter.
But that dominating performance from the Cranes is not nagging Kimanzi, who is focused on the mission ahead, which he hopes will end in bringing the trophy back across Lake Victoria.
"I don’t think their strength which they showed when they played Burundi, is something to go by when we meet them," said Kimanzi.
"I prefer to prepare and concentrate on my team and who knows we could produce the same form," he added.
This is the first time Stars have reached the final since they last won Africa’s oldest football competition back in 2002 and a remake of the 1982 final which Kenya won 5-3 on penalties.
Despite being the highest FIFA ranked nation in the competition, they were expected to struggle to reach the semis after being denied the services of several players that featured in the 2010 World Cup/Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, and being grouped alongside 2007 winners Sudan and guest side Zambia, who won the competition three years ago in Ethiopia.
Uganda is the most storied nation in the competition having won it nine times, their last victory coming in 2003 where they beat Rwanda 2-0 in the final.
The Cranes will be keen on breaking their six-year drought in front of their home and judging by their performance in Sunday’s semi, they have the firepower to do so.
Stars’ defence, which is spearheaded by captain Edgar Ochieng and Joseph Shikokoti should have the edge height wise, especially over Cranes skipper Andrew Mwesigwa who helped himself to two goals against Burundi, and Brain Omwony who together with Stars’ Francis Ouma are contenders for the Golden Boot award with four goals apiece so far.
The heart of the midfield promises to witness a straight dogfight between Stars Kevin Ochieng and Uganda’s Steven Bengo, who have been in industrious form for their respective teams throughout the tournament.
Ouma and Mike Baraza should once again be the ‘go to’ men for Kenya after both strikers gave Taifa Stars a horrid period on Sunday, leaving opposing defenders in their wake complimented by teasing shots on goal.
Victory for Stars will be a major confidence booster ahead of the second round of the World Cup qualifiers later this year, when they tackle Group B rivals Nigeria, Tunisia and Mozambique.
Probable Stars starting XI:
Duncan Ochieng, George Owino, Edgar Ochieng, Mulinge Ndetto, Joseph Shikokoti, George Owino Osborne Monday, Francis Ouma, Joseph Njuguna, Fredrick Ajwang.