NAIROBI, March 22- There is a strong wind of expectation as Stanley Okumbi takes on his first assignment since being appointed Harambee Stars coach when Kenya face Guinea Bissau in a 2017 African Cup of Nations Qualifier on Wednesday evening.
The former Mathare United tactician will be hoping he is not swept away by it, as Kenya’s hopes of the only available Group E AFCON ticket depends on the result posted in the back-to-back matches against the West Africans.
Stars arrived in Bissau on Monday evening and had a light training session at the match venue, the Estadio 24 de Setembro with foreign based players trickling in from their various bases.
Sweden based Michael Olunga was the first to arrive to have enough time to recover after playing for his club Djugardens on Saturday.
Olunga will be expected to lead attacking force and the striker, who is just beginning his first stint out of the country is upbeat Kenya will overcome the Guineans.
“The team has arrived in time, giving us two days to prepare. This shows good preparation and the best we can do is to show Kenyans what we can do. We hope everyone will give their best and get a positive result. Away matches are tough and we have to give our best,” Olunga said after the first training session in Bissau.
Sitting third in the group with a single point, Okumbi has spelt out collecting maximum points will put Stars’ campaign on track as they look to topple leaders Congo and Zambia, who both have four points apiece.
Congo and Zambia, the 2012 champions face off in the other group E encounter at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Lusaka, concurrently as Stars play in Bissau.
A win for Kenya will take them to second spot if either Zambia or Congo win while a draw for the leaders will see Stars remain third.
Okumbi exuded confidence after overseeing his charges shake off the jet lag.
“I am pleased with what I have seen being our first training since we arrived last night. The players are in good shape.”
Guinea Bissau also has a single point from a barren draw with Zambia in Lusaka, but sit bottom on goal difference.
The West Africans have a poor home record, having won only one of their last eight international engagements at home with the win coming two years ago when they beat Central African Republic 3-1 in an African Cup of Nations Qualifier.
Since then, they have lost twice and drawn an equal number. In the 2017 AFCON qualifying campaign they lost 4-2 against Congo Brazzaville while their most recent engagement at home was in a World Cup Qualifier against Liberia where they went down 3-1.
Kenya’s performance away has always left a lot to be desired. But coming up against a country ranked 44 places below them at 147th and with a tattered home record, Kenya enters the clash as favourites.
Stars come from the back of a 2-0 away loss to Cape Verde in a World Cup Qualifier but will be buoyed by their recent away biggest win when they thrashed minnows Mauritius 5-2.
Okumbi is expected to start with the same team used by his predecessor Bobby Williamson with a possibility of a few alterations.
The coach and his medical team will assess Zesco United holding midfielder Anthony Akumu, having picked an injury on his right eye after being pelted with a stone by FC Horaya fans in a CAF Champions League return-leg match in Conakry.
Norway based Arnold Origi is likely to start in between the sticks after returning for the first time since featuring for Stars in September when the team lost 2-1 at home to Zambia.
Tusker FC skipper James Situma, who makes the final cut for the first time in three years will lead the team’s defence alongside Zesco United centre-back David ‘Calabar’ Owino Owino, South African based Brian Mandela and Ulinzi’s Omar Mbongi.
Captain Victor Wanyama, who is expected to link up with the squad on the match day, will marshal the midfield that has Johanna Omolo, Akumu, Patillah Omoto, Erick Johanna and Clifton Miheso available for selection.
Probable line up
Goalkeper; Arnold Origi.
Defenders; James Situma, Brian Mandela, David Owino, Omar Mbongi.
Midfielders; Victor Wanyama, Johannah Omollo, Eric Johannah, Clifton Miheso.
Strikers; Jesse Were, Michael Olunga.