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AFCON 2019 qualification tops Okumbi’s agenda

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Harambee Stars players during a training session at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani on November 11, 2016. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya
Harambee Stars players during a training session at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani on November 11, 2016. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 11-Harambee Stars head coach Stanley Okumbi has his eyes set on qualification to the 2019 African Cup of Nations, saying he is building up a team to get Kenya across the line to continental football for the first time since 2004.

Kenya failed to make it to the 2017 Nations Cup after finishing bottom of group E with minnows Guinea Bissau picking up the automatic qualifying slot ahead of Congo Brazzaville and Zambia.

Okumbi who leads the national team to two international friendly matches against Mozambique and Liberia on Saturday and Tuesday respectively believes they will have enough time to put a strong team together, relieving Kenya’s hunger of continental football.

“The talk has been about the 2022 World Cup but we have other important tournaments before us and my hope is taking a step at a time. We have the AFCON Qualifiers coming up in March next year and that is our starting point. We need to have a good team to have us started on the qualification and that is my focus now,” the tactician said as he oversaw the team’s training session on Friday at Kasarani.

Harambee Stars head coach Francis Okumbi follows proceedings during a training session at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani on November 11, 2016. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya
Harambee Stars head coach Francis Okumbi follows proceedings during a training session at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani on November 11, 2016. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

“We are building on a team for that purpose. We are not there yet because there are so many players we need to look but at least we are making some progress. It is important to have a consistent team if we are to get results,” the tactician added.

The first round of qualification for the 2019 edition starts on March 20 next year.

Okumbi has seen the team roll on a four match unbeaten run, winning at home against Congo Brazzaville and away to DR Congo in between back to back draws against Uganda and Zambia away.

He will be looking to have the engine running against Mozambique and Liberia who are ranked lower than Stars and he believes his boys are up to the task.

“The morale of the players is very high and everyone is looking forward to the match. Playing more regularly gives these players confidence and you find that in the long run, as a team we perform well. It will be very important to win especially now that we are playing at home,” Okumbi said.

He has hinted the possibility of fielding changed teams for both ties, especially with the availability of the Zesco United trio of David Owino, Teddy Akumu and Jesse Were doubtful for the Tuesday encounter with their club set to have a midweek fixture.

The coach has been boosted with the return of skipper Victor Wanyama who missed the last match against Congo and he believes his influence will be vital.

“He brings in leadership on and off the pitch and you see a difference whenever he is playing. It is something good to have him back,” Okumbi offered.

Harambee Stars captain Victor Wanyama takes on Amos Ekhalie during a training session at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani on November 11, 2016. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya
Harambee Stars captain Victor Wanyama takes on Amos Ekhalie during a training session at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani on November 11, 2016. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

Wanyama, speaking to Capital Sport has underlined the importance of winning the two matches, especially as far as FIFA rankings is concerned.

“We are playing in front of our home fans and it will be very important to win. Also, we are looking at rising in the FIFA rankings so as to open up more opportunities for our players to play in the top European Leagues. Everyone in the team is upbeat ahead of the two games,” Wanyama who turns out for English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur said.

Both matches kick off at 4pm with a flat rate ticketing of Sh200 set out.

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