NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 3- Exactly 362 days ago, Zambia’s Chipolopolo travelled to Nairobi and dented Kenya’s hopes of making it to the 2017 African Cup of Nations for the first time since 2004 after collecting crucial points in their 2-1 win at the Nyayo National Stadium.
Fast forward to the return-leg in Ndola, the two teams will be walking into the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium with no chance of making it to the continental showpiece in Gabon after underdogs Guinea Bissau shocked all the bigwigs in Group E including Congo Brazzaville to book a ticket as group winners with a match to go.
Stanley Okumbi, the Harambee Stars head coach will lead his side into the match on Sunday with one aim in mind which is an honorable finish to their 2017 qualifying campaign.
Kenya has a chance of finishing third if they collect maximum points against the Chipolopolo, winners of the AFCON in 2012.
“Most people say it will be a meaningless match but for us it is an important match. We have to look at the FIFA rankings because we want to go higher. Also, we would like to finish stronger,” Okumbi told Capital Sport.
He expects a stiff challenge from the hosts but has tipped his side to do well, noting there has been improvement since he first took charge of the squad in the qualifier against Guinea Bissau.
“I have watched Zambia and they are a good side but we are good as well because we have been steadily improving. I expect it to be a tactical match,” Okumbi asserted.
His opposite number, George Lwandamina who also coaches three of Kenya’s players at Zambia’s Zesco United (David ‘Calabar’ Owino, Anthony Akumu and Jesse Were) expects a tough encounter but for him, the targets for the match will be different.
He says he will be using the game as a preparatory stage for their World Cup qualifying campaign which starts later in the year.
“It will show us who wants to go to the World Cup. Every game is a serious game whatever people may see it to be but once you go on the pitch, you give the seriousness it deserves. We should establish our starting point for the World Cup qualifiers; do we have a team that can compete for the qualifiers, or do we have to start all over? The answer will be known on Sunday I ‘m sure,” Lwandamina said.
“We are disappointed because we couldn’t make it to AFCON. But it’s not the end of the world and I believe we will reorganize ourselves and come stronger again. We won AFCON in 2012 which was good for our image but at some point we went to sleep. Now we need to come out of that slumber,” the tactician added.
Among the areas Okumbi has worked on to ensure his side is ready for the Zambians is the forward line, especially basing on the friendly match against Uganda Cranes last Tuesday.
He hopes to find the perfect partnership to unlock the Zambian defense with Jesse Were and Swedish based striker Michael Olunga expected to lead the line.
“We created so many chances against Uganda but we could not convert. That is a point of concern. Zambia is a good team defensively and I have watched several of their matches. It will need us to be very clinical with every chance we get.” Okumbi stated.
This will be Kenya’s last assignment this year and the players have an opportunity to leave a mark.