On Thursday, the country broke into the top 100 of the FIFA rankings for the first time in eight years and curiously, the usually vocal Football Kenya Federation (FKF) that gobbles up any tiny scrap of success that comes along with relish did not dispatch one of their customary (and irritating) congratulatory messages to newsrooms signed by its lord, Sam Nyamweya.
Perhaps that was the harbinger of what was to come on Sunday in Maseru when the team succumbed to a 1-0 loss to leave them with a mountain to climb when they host Lesotho for the return leg of their second round 2015 Afcon qualifier in Nakuru (why Nakuru? not in any way opposed to devolution) in less than two weeks.
For the risk of incurring a backlash, the defeat to Lesotho was richly deserved and instead of commiserating with the fallen Stars, we should applaud Lesotho who are silently emerging as giant killers after taking Liberia to the cleaners in the first round.
Before the raft of ready excuses are fished out upon the return of the team including poor officiating, maltreatment by the hosts, bad luck et al, the naked truth is Stars were set up to fail since they simply cobbled individuals together to face team.
The old cliché goes failing to plan if planning to fail and there was nothing in the build-up that suggested Stars were taking their Lesotho assignment with the seriousness it deserved, after all, football is a sport where the 23 squad members MUST function as an individual on the pitch.
While 18 members of the team were enjoying their sunshine break in Brazil to watch Nigeria take on Argentina, tiny Lesotho travelled to play Tanzania in a friendly, getting a good idea of how East Africans play and from that, they were able to formulate a plan to contain Stars.
Since they beat Liberia 2-1 on aggregate, Lesotho have been in camp gelling as a team, with most of their players based in their domestic league that was adjusted to give them more time.
Stars waited until some six days to go for head coach Adel Amrouche to convene his players, with the foreign contingent joining the team for the hastily arranged friendly with Burundi on Tuesday that did little to aid their cause.
In between, FKF gashed about the ‘unity’ in the squad after hosting them to dinner to watch the World Cup final at a swanky Nairobi hotel as if they were preparing for a seven course late lunch in Maseru.
Nyamweya and his mandarins need to realise to quote Brazil star Neymar, “Other countries have moved ahead and we must catch up,” of course, not about Stars but his Brazilian side that was shamed despite reaching the World Cup semis and it’s time to dispel this notion that Kenya are a force in football despite boasting fine talent.
Oliech’s absence not a factor
Upon return, Amrouche will see members of his team scatter to their clubs, here and overseas with the likelihood he will miss his captain, Victor Wanyama, who will most certainly be involved with pre-season preparations with Southampton alongside other foreign players who are taken as the backbone of the team.
Being outside the FIFA calendar, these clubs are not obliged to release their players as Lillestrom of Norway did with keeper Arnold Origi and in the full knowledge of that, FKF did not put a contingency in place since to them, Maseru was a stroll in the park.
We will be told of how the team missed chances and luck to win the game by a mile but the cold reality is in modern football, the margins are so thin, the width of a post, the frame of the goal or in the case of Allan Wanga and Jacob Keli on Sunday, inaccuracy in front of goal.
The argument is always fronted that Stars lack axed former captain, Dennis Oliech upfront and the clamour to have him back has already started gathering steam on social media but shouldn’t a nation that boasts of being a football titan find a way past their record scorer?
Colombia World Cup hopes were said to be over when their striking super-star, Radamel Falcao, was injured in the run-up to the Mundial but rather than moan about the loss, they simply shifted James Rodriguez to a more advanced role and boom! The country produced the top scorer in Brazil!
Indeed we don’t boast of the talent of Rodriguez but the fact remains every team worth their salt will always have a Plan B in place. In Kenya’s case, there no working Plan A as we rely on the ‘rojo juu’ (brave heart) modus operadi that on it’s day, works but it’s not a ticket to qualify for Afcon or World Cup finals.
That Bushi Moletsane goal 20 minutes to time could prove enough to slay Stars Nations Cup dreams for another three years and reduce them to travelling to Morocco next year to watch the finals.
Boot camp, suspend KPL
Hope is not lost if FKF, Amrouche and his bench can get their act together, boot camp the individuals they took to Maseru into a team and if necessary, even suspend all domestic competition to give them ample time to turn into a cohesive unit that can conjure at least the two goals they need to overturn the deficit.
Costa Rica, Honduras (before the World Cup) and now Lesotho did that for the sake of their national team taking a good tilt at glory and although suspending the Kenyan Premier League will have ramifications on the fixture schedule and broadcast obligations, it’s a small price to pay for the sake of the aspirations of a nation.
To put it into perspective, Barrack Obama was not US President when Kenya last played at Afcon in 2004, a girl born that year is reaching puberty and within that period, Zambia have been crowned African champions.
Jerim Onyango and Co who travelled to Brazil to watch the World Cup would rather be playing there and exit at the group stage than to say how delighted they were “to learn from the experience,” just like the rest of armchair fans.