NAIROBI, September 3 – Recalled veteran midfielder, MacDonald Mariga will not feature for Harambee Stars on Sunday during their 2017 AFCON qualifier against Zambia as he focuses on finding a new club.
His absence will however, not ease the selection headache for the second Group E qualifier for head coach Bobby Williamson who still has the strongest squad he has ever assembled at his disposal.
Mariga’s younger brother and captain, Southampton ace Victor Wanyama trained with the team on Thursday and with Norway’s Lillestromme and first choice goal keeper, Arnold Origi, expected in later in the night, Williamson has huge task in his hands to select the match-day 18.
The Scot confirmed midfielder Mariga, the 2010 UEFA Champions League winner with Inter Milan who was released by broke Parma at the end of last season, will not make his expected return since he had not flown in as he steps up efforts to secure a new team.
“Victor (Wanyama) is an inspirational player for the rest because he has proven he is a quality player at the highest level. It’s good he is here with desire to play for his country.
“I will have difficult time in naming my squad because we have many quality players and some will be disappointed. The formation of play, injury and lack of fitness may see some miss out since our aim is to approach the game on the best way,” the former Uganda Cranes and domestic top flight champions, Gor Mahia head coach told.
“Mariga is trying to find a club and hopefully he will find one soon and get back to contention,” he explained.
“Oliech has the same chances like anyone else, he has been a big player for this country and I’m sure his presence is a big influence. We played well in Congo; we were solid defensively but now that we will be at home, it will not be easy and in the recent matches, so many teams have not won at home for some reasons so we hope it will not happen to us.
“It’s because teams will go attacking and leaving themselves vulnerable at the back so we will show them some respect and hopefully play our game,” the former Uganda Cranes tactician said on the chances of another recalled seasoned campaigner, forward Dennis Oliech.
Perhaps as indication of lack of ample time to drill his team, Williamson plans to approach Zambia cautiously despite playing at home.
He’s banking on his attacking force of record scorer Oliech, Azam FC’s Allan Wanga, Nkana‘s Jacob Keli and local hit men, Michael Olunga, Jesse Were will rise to the occasion.
Williamson is particularly keen to gather intelligence from defender David ‘Calabar’ Owino who plays for Zesco United who are coached by George Lwandamina, who will lead the Chipolopolo side on Sunday.
Keli who plies his trade in Zambia, has also given the national coach insight into the system of play and how well the 2012 champions who are expected on Friday have been preparing to face the Stars.
Captain Wanyama is eager to rally the troops to nullify the copper bullets that have beaten them in their last three meetings.
“We have a good squad and on Sunday, we have to give our all and if we get a win it will be better. This time we have a lot of experienced players so we will work as a unit. I’m ready anytime so those who are saying I’m not ready mentally, I don’t understand them.
“My focus is in the national team and to do my country proud. Zambia is a good side and we don’t expect an easy ride. We are always under pressure to qualify for the finals because it’s long since we were there so I believe this is our time,” the Southampton midfield dynamo underlined.
Belgian based duo of winger Ayub Timbe, midfielder, Johanna Omolo, defenders, Brian Mandela (South Africa) Lawrence Olum (Malaysia), David Ochieng (unattached), Paul Were (Greece) and Francis Kahata(KF Tirana) complete the list of foreign based players in camp.
Stars held Congo Brazzaville 1-1 away in their opener while Zambia settled for a goalless stalemate against minnows Guinea Bissau to throw Group E wide open.
A win for Kenya will see take charge of the group as they seek to return to the continental showdown final for the first time since 2004.