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Harambee Starlets light up Kenyan football in 2016

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Harambee Starlets forward Cherish Avillia leads celebrations after scoring the important equaliser against Algeria at the Kasarani Stadium on April 12, 2016. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 30 – On a year that Kenyan football didn’t have much to celebrate about, April 12 is a date on the 2016 calendar that will not be easily erased on the minds of football loving Kenyans and more so the women football fraternity.

Trailing 1-0 against Algeria at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani, Cherish Avilia struck a well weighted first time volley in the 75th minute, a goal that would go down in history as the one that took Kenya to its first ever African Women’s Cup of Nations.

Starlets forced a 1-1 draw against the Lady Fennecs at home, progressing on the away goal rule after a 2-2 draw in the first leg in Algiers.

Despite the fact they would go on to lose all their group matches In Cameroon against more experienced opponents in Mali, Ghana and Nigeria, the Starlets made a statement that indeed, women football was on the trajectory in this side of Africa.

“What was more important for us is the experience. We might have lost, probably we would have done better, but we have picked up necessary lessons to help us qualify again in 2019 and definitely do better,” head coach David Ouma said after the side returned from Limbe, Cameroon in November.

The Kenyan girls played only one qualification round after the DR Congo pulled out of the first round due to financial constraints.

After qualification, Starlets put up well laid out preparatory plan that saw them play in a tournament in Spain, a training camp in Morocco as well as the inaugural CECAFA Women’s Championship in Jinja, Uganda.

Spedag and Harambee Starlets forward Esse Akida sandwiched by Espanyol players during the COTIF tournament in July

In the COTIF tournament in Spain, Starlets finished fourth after winning two matches, against Portuguese Champions Benfica with a 3-0 result and Spanish side RCD Espanyol with a 3-1 result. Esse Akida who has been the toast of the Starlets emerged top scorer with five goals.

In Uganda though, the team suffered a set-back at the CECAFA championship after losing 2-1 to Tanzania in the final. Akida however was the silver lining in Kenya’s dark day in the final after being crowned top scorer again with five goals.

The growth and performance of the national team was credited to the revival of the Women’s Premier League which will be getting to the play off stages in January. This was the first time the league was running unabated since 2013 when it was sponsored by UNICEF.

“Playing week in week out ensured that as players, we were constantly kept on toes and we kept the much needed match fitness. I believe it was one thing that kept us on top throughout,” Starlets skipper Ann Aluoch said.

-Harambee Stars blow hot and cold-

Harambee Stars players in a past match.PHOTOFILE/Raymond Makhaya.

While Starlets managed to book a slot in the biggest football stage in Africa, it was not exactly the same scenario for their male counterparts, the Harambee Stars. They had a year of mixed fortunes.

Twin losses to Guinea Bissau saw Kenya’s dream of making it to the African Cup of Nations in 2017 extinguished at the expense of the West Africans.

Had they won the two matches, then Kenya would have made it to the AFCON especially as they went on to win their final home match against Congo Brazzaville and pulled off a draw away to Zambia’s Chipolopolo.

The Guinea Bissau match away in Bissau was head coach Stanley Okumbi’s first assignment after his shock appointment by the new Football Kenya Federation office led by Nick Mwendwa.

The loss in Bissau fuelled animosity with Kenyan fans especially after the coach played in Patillah Omotto and Ovellah Ochieng, two players from Kariobangi Sharks, a club associated with the FKF president Mwendwa.

The second loss at home by a similar margin increased the decibels calling for Okumbi’s sacking, but the coach has now gone on to slowly prove that he is the man for the big job as he has led the team on an eight-match unbeaten run, highlighted by the 1-0 victory away to giants DR Congo in Lubumbashi.

Stars finished off the year ranked 89th in the world, an improvement from a January ranking of 99th.

-Tusker win season double-

Tusker FC team lifting the 2016 Kenyan Premier title after beating Gor Mahia 1-0 on the final day at the Nyayo National Stadium.PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

Though he dumped the Tusker ship for the sails of Bandari at the close of the season, Paul Nkata etched his name on the history books at Ruaraka by being the first coach in the club’s history to win both the league and domestic cup in a single year.

Tusker reclaimed the Kenyan Premier League crown from Gor Mahia who won it thrice in a row, coming just after winning the GOtv Shield for the first time since 1993 with a 1-0 victory over Ulinzi Stars.

The brewers’ campaign was helped much by an inconsistent Gor Mahia who also made history by being the first club in Kenya to be docked points due to crowd trouble.

K’Ogalo were deducted three points by the FKF Independent Disciplinary Committee after a case of violence during their match against Tusker FC which also saw goalkeeper Boniface Oluoch handed a one-match ban for roughing up the referee.

Apart from the three points chopped off their haul, Gor paid the price for a poor start to the season that saw them change coaches in March, Brazilian Jose Marcelo Ferreira taking over from Englishman Frank Nuttal who left the Gor stable to join Egyptian side Zamalek.

Gor’s season went from bad to worse when they were dumped out of the GOtv Shield quarter finals by second tier side Nzoia United, and the dink further plummeted when they lost the KPL Top Eight title to Muhoroni Youth after losing 1-0 in a trouble ridden finale.

-Managerial changes-

Former AFC Leopards head coach Ivan Minnaert in a past KPL match-PHOTO/ RAYMOND MAKHAYA

It was not only Gor who were forced to change coaches at some point in the season.

Their arch nemesis AFC Leopards as always took the crown and lived to their culture of always firing coaches.

Ingwe started the season with Dutchman Jan Koops at the helm but they replaced him with Belgian Ivan Minnaert in February. The former Rayon Sports head coach however lasted only seven months as he was fired in September with Ezekiel Akwana and Nick Muyoti taking over.

The game of musical chairs did not stop there though as the two were sacked towards the end of the season with former Azam coach Briton Stewart John Hall taking charge.

Muhoroni too was a club besieged in the culture of hiring and firing in 2016.

The sugar belt side started off with James ‘Odijo’ Omondi taking charge of the team after Nkata left for Tusker. However, Omondi was unceremoniously sacked and his place taken by Gor Mahia legend John ‘Bobby’ Ogolla.

The former Gor assistant and City Stars boss however left not so long after his appointment and assistant Tom Juma was asked to hold forte till the end of the season.

Coastal side Bandari had a season to forget after raising the bar so high in 2015 and the poor performance cost experienced coach Twahir Muhiddin his job with Ken Odhiambo taking charge from May to the end of the season.

Posta Rangers too relieved their head coach Zedekiah Otieno of his duties three games to the end of the season, but was later elevated to the post of technical director after the arrival of Sammy ‘Pamzo’ Omollo early December.

Strugglers Sofapaka were also forced to part ways with David Ouma towards the end of the season with the coach having accorded little time to the club owing to his involvement with the national women team.

John Baraza took charge and managed to steer the side to safety in what still remains a miraculous escape from the jaws of relegation.

-Ushuru, City Stars relegated-

Nairobi City Stars defender Arthur Museve challenges Ushuru’s Ebrimah Sanneh. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

City Stars’ nine lives were finally exhausted as they were relegated from the top tier after finishing bottom of the pile.

The Kawangware based side suffered a tough season compared to their previous narrow escapes and at some point club chairman Peter Jabuya had contemplated disbanding the team as he was unable to foot the running costs.

Ken Kenyatta’s Ushuru were also relegated, bringing to an end their two year stay in top flight. A dismal performance in the second half of the season where they only won one game seemed their ticket to next year’s National Super League.

On the final day of the season, they only needed a draw regardless of the result Sofapaka posted against Thika United, but they ended up cracking and lost 3-1 to Posta Rangers.

-New boy Muguna named season’s best-

Western Stima’s Kenneth ‘Junior’ Mugambi wins the player of the year award. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

Though greeted with mixed reactions, Western Stima midfield prodigy Kenneth ‘Junior’ Muguna was named the best player of the 2016 season as well as the best midfielder.

The 20-year old, playing in his maiden season of top flight football waded off stiff competition from Ulinzi Stars’ John Mark Makwatta who also won the golden boot and Tusker’s midfield master Humphrey Mieno.

Muguna, who is now a high target for 15-time champions Gor has also been invited for trials in Europe.

He came through to the Stima first team as an unknown boy from Palos FC but went on to cement his place in the starting team, lifting Stima to their best ever top flight finish, 6th.

-New men take charge at Football Kenya Federation-

Newly elected FKF president Nick Mwendwa giving his acceptance speech after winning the national elections on Tuesday, February10, 2016. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

On February 10, Nick Mwendwa took over as the new Football Kenya Federation after beating current Gor chair Ambrose Rachier and Ssemi Aina.

Incumbent Sam Nyamweya threw a last minute dice into the race when he announced before the ballot that he would not be standing for re-election.

Mwendwa’s administration has been praised for the way it has conducted its business, amongst them sourcing for the men and women’s national team friendly matches, better management of its leagues and better player management at the national level.

“We haven’t brought new things to office. We have just ensured that the things which need to be done are done well and in time. They were very small issues that if taken care of will make us go far,” Mwendwa said as he looked back at the 10 months his team has been in place.

The federation also managed to put back in place the FKF headquarters in Kasarani and scored a big tick with FIFA lifting a financial embargo it had imposed on the federation over impropriety in the previous office.

The federation also set up better youth structures with the appointment of a new technical director and though both the under-17 and under-20 teams never made it off the first round of qualifiers, the steps made to put up a model in place were tremendous.

-Kenyan players shine abroad-

Victor Wanyama poses with the Spurs scarf after arriving at their White Hart Lane base. PHOTO/SKY

Kenyan footballers plying their trade outside the country managed to excel led by skipper Victor Wanyama. The midfield powerhouse sealed a transfer from Southampton FC to Totenham Hotspurs in the English Capital in a move that was worth Sh1.5bn.

He has since turned out to be a great addition to Mauricio Pochettino’s side, starting all but one game for the North London club.

In Zambia, the Kenyan trio of Jesse Were, Teddy Akumu and David Owino were instrumental as Zesco United made it to the semi final of the CAF Champions League for the first time, with Were being the club’s joint top scorer in the competition with four goals.

While it was Akumu and Were’s first season in Ndola, Owino was marking his second season with the former league champions.

In the United States, David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng though with a slow start to the North American Soccer League managed to play a crucial role in the latter stages of the league as his club New York Cosmos defended their league title.

Ochieng joined the Cosmos at the beginning of the year after spending six months in the cold.

In Sweden, Michael Olunga managed to curve out a perfect debut season in Europe, being his club’s top scorer and the fifth best in the league.

The ‘engineer’ also endured a slow start to life in Stockholm, but once he got started, there was no going back.

In South Africa, defender Brian ‘Niang’ Mandela played a pivotal role as his club Maritzburg United evaded relegation by a whisker.

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