NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 10 – Tuesday evening news that Sierra Leone had failed to meet conditions set by FIFA to lift a suspension on the country has now thrown Group F of the 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier into new dimensions.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) tweeted later that the double header pitting the Leone Stars against Ghana’s Black Stars had been called off.
This essentially means that on the road to qualifying for next year’s Cup of Nations, any results picked against the West Africans will be annulled. This means Ethiopia who beat Sierra Leone 1-0 last month will be on zero points while Ghana and Kenya who lost away to the Leone Stars are now on three.
Breaking news: AFCON Qualifier matches Ghana vs Sierra Leone & Sierra Leone vs Ghana on the 11th and 14th of October respectively have been cancelled as SLFA did not meet the conditions stipulated in the letter sent by CAF on FIFA’s decision to suspend the federation.#AFCONQ2019
— CAF (@CAF_Online) October 9, 2018
The new development means that Kenya needs at least four points off Ethiopia, who they face in a span of four days, to qualify for next year’s showpiece in Cameroon.
The first leg will be staged at the 60,000-seater Bahir Dar Stadium in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, almost 500km away from the capital city Addis Ababa.
Kenya’s Harambee Stars go into the match tails up after last month’s win over group leaders Ghana in Nairobi and head coach Sebastien Migne has urged his charges to ‘confirm’ that the result against the Black Stars was no mere fluke and pick three points against the Ethiopians.
“It was a fantastic result but the most important thing in the high level is to confirm the same kind of performance. It is a tough challenge we have because Ethiopia is a tough team but we will try to compete well,” Migne said on Tuesday evening after the side’s training session in Bahir Dar.
He added; “We are on the way to write a new page for Kenyan football but this is the beginning, we will try to write good book for the future,”
The French tactician says his team is ready for the tie despite a short training period together with most of the players having joined up with the squad on Monday in Bahir Dar.
He expects a tough duel especially with Bahir Dar’s intimidating atmosphere, but the French tactician says he will be happy to play in such an atmosphere.
“I know Ethiopia because I have faced them previously in the World Cup qualification with Congo and I know this stadium has very good atmosphere. It is good for Ethiopia, but also good for football,” the tactician noted.
His sentiments are shared by skipper Victor Wanyama; “We are ready for the match even though we have had less time to train together. But I feel the players are in good shape and we will tackle the match with positivity,” the midfielder said.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia head coach Abraham Mebratu is optimistic his side is in the right frame to pick three points from Kenya and keep their AFCON dream alive.
“We are only thinking about securing maximum points in home soil. All the teams in the group picked three points that made things to start from scratch. All we need to do is win our remaining games,” the tactician noted.
Stars will be stronger heading into the Ethiopia game with four players who were absent for last month’s win over Ghana returning.
Skipper Wanyama is available after gaining match fitness following a month-long injury spell, same as central defender Brian Mandela who is available after serving his one match suspension following a red card against Sierra Leone.
Sensational winger Paul Were is also back in the team after recovering from injury same as midfielder Johannah Omollo who strained his hamstring on the eve of the game against Ghana.
The only absentee will be defender Joash Onyango who is suspended after picking a red card against the Ghanaians in Nairobi.
Migne is expected to stick up to the team that played against Ghana, though wingback Erick ‘Marcelo’ Ouma might be drafted in after impressing in an off-the-bench appearance in the friendly against Malawi.
The headache for the French coach is whether to stick with David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng at the heart of defense after the Sweden based stopper came in following Onyango’s red card or to pull in Brian Mandela instead.
The last time Kenya played in Ethiopia was in 2015 during the African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers where they lost 2-0 and missed a penalty.