NAIROBI, March 14 – Harambee Stars coach Stanley Okumbi has set his sights on ending Kenya’s Africa Cup of Nations 12-year wait despite a slow start that has seen them pick only one point in the opening two matches.
As Kenya prepares to take on 147th ranked Guinea Bissau in a back-to-back Group E qualifier, Okumbi maintains that winning both matches over the West Africans will put their AFCON dreams back on track.
Stars travel to Bissau for the first-leg on Wednesday next week before hosting the return leg four days later at the Nyayo National Stadium.
Kenya is third in Group E behind 2012 champions Zambia and Congo, who are jointly leading the pool on four points apiece.
However, six points for Okumbi’s charges will see them go top of the group if Zambia and Congo draw in both legs or if either of them loses one leg.
“We have analyzed Guinea Bissau and seen how they play and it is not going to be an easy assignment. They are physically fit and we will need to dig deep to ensure we match their physicality,” Okumbi told Capital Sports.
The initial squad reported to camp on Monday for a light recovery session at the Utalii College while intense training begins on Tuesday morning, a week before the crucial tie.
Unlike previous coaches, Okumbi has received support from the Kenyan Premier League body which has halted matches until the two-legged ties are over.
“The return to continental competition will depend on these two matches. We need to take them seriously, prepare well and hopefully pick six points to put ourselves in a good position. At the moment, there is hope, but we need to actualize it by winning,” Okumbi explained.
The eight foreign based players led by skipper Victor Wanyama, who plies his trade at English Premier League side Southampton, are expected to link up with the rest of the squad beginning Friday, five days to the match as stipulated by world governing body FIFA.
Wanyama has not featured for Southampton since February 7 when he was sent off in the club’s 1-0 win over West Ham to serve a five match ban after accumulating three successive red cards.
The midfield maestro will be eligible to return March 19, when the Saints welcome Merseyside club Liverpool at St Mary’s and if selected by manager Ronald Koeman, Wanyama will be travelling to Nairobi possibly Sunday to link up with the team on Monday.
Okumbi will receive a boost with the return of Belgian based winger Ayub Timbe, who is fit after being out for a month-long with injury.
“I have been monitoring all the players both locally and the foreign based ones. I’m glad that all have featured for their respective clubs. I’m impressed with their levels and when we have a full house, we will only fine tune on our tactics and style of play,” added the former Mathare United tactician.
It will be Okumbi’s first assignment since taking over from Scotsman Bobby Williamson whose reign was unsuccessful, hitting rock bottom with the failure to defend the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup, bowing out at the quarter-finals.
Harambee Stars full squad
Goalkeepers: Arnold Origi (Lillestrom, Norway), Boniface Oluoch (Gor Mahia), Lucas Indeche (AFC Leopards) and Ian Otieno (Posta Rangers)
Defenders: Harun Shakava, Musa Mohammed (Gor Mahia), Brian Birgen, Omar Mbongi (Ulinzi Stars), Shariff Mohammed (Bandari), David Owino (Zesco United), James Situma (Tusker FC), Eugene Ochieng (Sony Sugar), Joseph Okumu (Chemelil Sugar) and Brian Mandela (Maritzburg United)
Midfielders: Victor Wanyama (Southampton FC), Johannah Omollo (Antwerp), Collins Okoth, Francis Kahata (Gor Mahia), Patillah Omotto (Kariobangi Sharks), Erick Johannah, Roy Syamba (Mathare United), Clifton Miheso, Simon Abuko (AFC Leopards), Anthony Kimani, Shabaan Kenga, David King’atua (Bandari FC), Ayub Timbe (Lierse), Anthony Akumu (Zesco United) and Paul Were (FC Kalloni)
Strikers: Michael Olunga (IF Djugardens), Aziz Okaka (Ushuru FC), Timothy Otieno (Posta Rangers), Jesse Were (Zesco United), Ovella Ochieng (Kariobangi Sharks) and Nicholas Kipkurui (Zoo Kericho).