MACHAKOS, Kenya, Jun 7 – Harambee Stars first coach Stanley Okumbi is looking on for a positive start when the team starts its 2019 African Cup of Nations campaign against Sierra Leone on Saturday away in Free Town.
The tactician has affirmed the technical bench has done its homework on their first opponents into the 2019 journey to Cameroon and is confident they have gathered enough steel to pick in at least a point from the West African sojourn.
“We have looked at their games during the last African Cup of Nations qualifier and we know their threats, strengths and weaknesses. We have prepared accordingly and I am confident that we will have good results. At least we want to get a point away from home but our ambition is to go out there and get a win,” the tactician said after the team’s penultimate training session on Wednesday in Machakos.
Despite the multitude of problems they have been facing on the local front with no active league over the past four years, Sierra Leone will be no pushovers especially looking at their performance during the qualification phase for the 2017 AFCON.
They finished second in Group I of the qualifiers, just a point below Ivory Coast. They only lost one match, a slim 1-0 result away to Sudan. Against giants Ivory Coast, they picked home and away draws, while winning at home against Sudan.
Their squad is mostly made up of foreign based players, among them being USA based Kei Kamara, one of their top scorers.
Other foreign based stars in the Lone Stars squad include Turkey-based David Simbo and Alfred Sankoh, skipper and FC Zurich defender Umaru Bangura, JS Hercules Midfielder Abdul Sesay, Olimpija Ljubljana winger Julius Wobay and BK Hacken striker Alhassan Kamara.
“We know they are not an easy team and we are not underrating them in any way. They might have problems domestically, but in football, anything is possible. We are taking a game at a time, we know we are in a tough group but we are only thinking about a match as we go,” the tactician said.
Okumbi will miss the services of three first team players, Bulgaria based Aboud Omar, Belgium based Johannah Omollo and Zesco United forward Jesse Were all who are ruled out with injury. However, he says he will keep faith in the squad at his disposal.
“Everyone in the squad is capable and I am confident in the players we will travel with. They have put in hard work over the past two weeks of training and even though the foreign based players came a week later, they understand everything we do and have blended in so well,” the tactician added.
Okumbi says the team has put behind their backs the disappointment of the last campaign when the team bowed out of contention for the 2017 Cup of Nations with back to back home and away losses to Guinea Bissau who went on to qualify.
He says the focus is on getting the team to qualify for 2019 and they will do all at their disposal to get the ticket to Cameroon.
Meanwhile, Football Kenya Federation chief Nick Mwendwa has castigated a section of the fans for what he termed as ‘tact to destabilize the team’ ahead of a crucial game over the social media campaign over Stars’ allowances.
There was a cloud of discontent on Tuesday when it was revealed that Stars players are paid Sh1500 in allowances daily while in camp and Mwendwa sought to clear the air.
“The government told us that they could only pay Sh750 for the players when they are in the country since they already cater for food and accommodation. As a federation, we thought that was very little and we added up a further Sh750 to make Sh1500,” Mwendwa said.
“There is no single day that these players have failed to be paid their allowances. We take care of their welfare with a lot of detail and what I am not happy about is this issue being raised a few days to an important game. Why was it not raised earlier?” he posed.
Skipper Victor Wanyama sought to steer clear of the issue and only said; “If there is a problem then the federation is here and it will be sorted. For us, the focus is on the game against Sierra Leone.”
The team departs for Freetown on Thursday evening.