Buoyed by breaking into the top 100 of the FIFA World Rankings released this week for the first time in eight years on the back of run of 14 internationals without loss, Kenya are hoping to secure an advantage against the side that quashed the dream of established Liberia in the previous round.
According to the FIFA order, Stars start as favourites against the side 36 places below them in their quest to get a win, squeeze a stalemate, scoring or otherwise or should they go down, the advantage of an away goal (s).
The Kenyans will be under assistant head coach James Nandwa, after his fiery Belgian boss Adel Amrouche was slapped with a two-match ban by CAF for confronting match officials in Comoros during their preliminary round return leg where a 1-1 stalemate was enough to see them progress 2-1 on aggregate.
Stars will miss the influence of Belgian based duo of Lommel United midfielder Johanna Omolo and Racing Genk winger Ayub Timbe who scored in both legs of the preliminary round besides the loss of their first choice glove-man, Arnold Origi, who was denied clearance by his Norwegian club because the fixture falls outside the FIFA calendar.
Kenya played to a goalless draw in a friendly against Burundi on Tuesday as captain Victor Wanyama was sent off moments after coming on as a substitute for his first international red card although it will not count against Lesotho.
The game gave little insight into the potency of the Kenyan side that has never lost away under Amrouche’s watch upfront but it appears Stars are going to deploy rearguard action in Lesotho.
Inter Milan midfielder, MacDonald Mariga, who is line to play in his second competitive match for Stars since 2012, called on his team-mates to treat their Maseru assignment as a landmine field.
“I believe we are well prepared and the friendly was a good test to new call-ups. The coach saw our mistakes which we will be working out before Lesotho game.
“I’m in a good shape, I will continue working hard and hope to make it to the first XI but above all we need to either draw or win because I believe we have high chances of making it to the group. We should approach the match cautiously since Lesotho is a good team,” Mariga, the elder brother of Wanyama, told Capital Sport before the team departed for Maseru.
Tusker midfielder, Brian Osumba, who has blossomed for the 2011/12 Kenyan Premier League champions, is the only player making his debut for Stars.
Amrouche dropped four players for the Maseru trip; defenders Dennis Odhiambo (Thika United) and Abdullatiff Mohamed (Bandari) as well as forwards Paul Kiongera from KCB and KRA’s Geoffrey Kataka.
With the absence of Origi, Wilson Obungu is the probable candidate to start in between the sticks as James Situma and Aboud Omar man the full back positions.
Al Taawon defender David Ochieng and David ‘Calabar’ Owino are the favoured centre-half pairing with Wanyama, Finland based Peter Opiyo, Oman based Jamal Mohammed, Mariga and Francis Kahata manning the midfield.
Allan Wanga, Jacob Keli and David Gateri who plies his trade in South Africa are the options upfront.
Lesotho are on a high of stunning Liberia on a 2-1 aggregate in their preliminary clash having overturned a first-leg deficit in Monrovia.
They received an equivalent of Sh25, 000 for each player from the federation ahead of Sunday’s match for motivation besides the benefit of having the core of their squad playing in their domestic league.
The two sides have met five times with Kenya having a better head-to-head record with three wins, a draw and loss.