In living true to the national stereotype, the national football team, Harambee Stars come to their crucial 2013 Africa Nations Cup qualifier on Wednesday against the fancied Togo on the back of preparations characterised by rough and tumble.
On the eve of the match, dependable midfielder, MacDonald Mariga, the AC Parma Italian Serie A player, threw in a major spanner in the works when he announced he would pull out of the match over yet to be refunded air tickets cost he incurred to honour call-ups.
This was the latest in a string of incidents that have seen head coach, Francis Kimanzi, cry foul for the little time he has been afforded with local based players in his team and the late arrive of the foreign based contingent in addition to the shock decision by first choice custodian Arnold Origi to announce his international retirement at 28.
“We are focused, well prepared at the moment and we have done everything we needed within the short period available.
“We are looking very sharp and confident and I can also see indications of an extra advantage since we are playing at home and the crowd will give the team a push,” Kimanzi extolled on the hope a nation finds itself feeding from ahead of tough international assignments.
Commenting on the Mariga blow precipitated by a Sh1.5m ($17,647) bill he is charging the Football Kenya Federation for airfare, Kimanzi turned ashen, charging, “At the moment, I prefer to concentrate with the players that are in and ready to play for their country.”
The Stars boss further expressed his concerns on the state of the Nyayo National Stadium pitch saying it will adversely affect his side’s play.
“It’s not one of the best, since last year, it has been over used but it is the only one available at the moment. The beauty is that most of the players we shall feature tomorrow are used to this kind of pitch, it is not the best but it is playable.”
While offering unwavering support for his European based counterpart, captain, Denis Oliech, said the game would offer the team a fresh start as they embark on their campaign for a Nations Cup appearance since 2004.
“It’s a good chance and we are hoping it will be a good day for us. We are playing at home, at least I know the boys are okay and everyone is behind us. We need to get at least two or three goals so that we can have the advantage in the second leg in June.
“For us, their big players do not concern us, It’s all about 90 minutes and determination, we don’t have to talk about their big players since we also have big names ourselves and we cannot afford to lose or concede a goal in the early minutes,” the AJ Auxerre forward observed.
UK born Kenyan national, Taiwo Atieno, who was recalled to the side by Kimanzi to the side said the camp was not fazed by the test ahead of them.
“We need to go out there and play our game and not worry about who we are playing. I think we need to focus, put enough pressure on them, you saw Zambia, they played against Ivory Coast and their big players, we are the underdogs and that means there is no pressure on us,” the English League 2 side Torquay United attacker said.
Coach Kimanzi said the game would not be an opportunity to give the new arrivals such as Norway based Christian Bwamy (FK Follo), Ayub Timbe (Racing Genk, Belgium) and Taiwo a chance to press their cases for inclusion in the squad.
“The new faces in the team have not been in the team for long but we have seen good indicators that we can push them and they can help the team, it’s unfortunate that Timbe has not arrived. When we have more preparing time in June, we can include them in the team.
“The first call-up for a player from abroad is to analyse and test the player, if he surprises the team , he can get in the ship immediately, it takes a lot to break the team at club level, what about the national team?”
Kenya last played Togo in 2004 Afcon qualifiers beating them by 3-0 before losing 2-0 in Lome as they sealed their place in the Tunisia Nations Cup.
Togo has since then been able to develop into a formidable side with top players plying their trade abroad led by captain Emmanuel Adebayor and they have a 2006 World Cup appearance in Germany to list as achievement.
With Kenya’s development of the game going sideways since, once again the football mad nation finds itself leaning on hope to further her aspirations.
Goalkeepers: Duncan Ochieng and Boniface Oluoch
Defenders: Mulinge Ndetto, Eric Masika, James Situma, Brian Mandela, Dennis Odhiambo, Pascal Ochieng and Osborne Monday
Midfielders: Macdonald Mariga, Victor Mugubi, Collins Okoth, Kevin Kimani, Humphrey Mieno, Jamal Mohamed, Kevin Ochieng, Christian Bwamy and Titus Mulama
Strikers: Dennis Oliech (Captain), Allan Wanga, Taiwo Atieno and Ayub Timbe