NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 14 – Kenya’s dream of a first ever appearance in the Olympics for the football team will begin on Wednesday evening when the Under-23 team takes on Mauritius in the first round of a long road to qualification for the 2020 showpiece in Tokyo, Japan.
For a country that has ruled the games every four years especially on the athletics track, Kenya will be hoping to add one more medal prospect in a field that most do not associate it with, football.
But, the path to picking a ticket to Tokyo is not a simple one.
A three-round qualification process will pick out the best seven teams to join hosts Egypt for the Africa Under-23 Championship to be held in Cairo with the top three teams qualifying for Tokyo.
Kenya begins the first round against Mauritius and a win from this stage will book them a ticket against the winner between the Sudan and Seychelles tie.
A further win from the second round will book the Emerging Stars a third round ticket where they play the winner between Libya and Nigeria and a further victory at this stage will see the team qualify for the eight-team Under-23 Championship.
Head coach Francis Kimanzi who has been working alongside senior team boss Sebastien Migne says the team is ready for kick off and adds they want to ensure they finish the job at home before the second leg on Sunday November 18.
“We have a very positive progress in training because we have a full squad fit and healthy and most importantly motivated and ready. This is a very important match and we cant underrate Mauritius because the dynamics in African football are very different now,” Kimanzi noted as he prepared the team for the tie.
Kimanzi has boosted his squad with the arrival of two English born Kenyans, Jonah Ayunga and Henry Ochieng. Ochieng turns out for English national league side Braintree Town while Ayunga turns out for third tier side Sutton United.
While Ayuinga has previously been called up to the team two years ago, Ochieng will be making his maiden cut and he hopes to catch not only Kimanzi’s eye, but Migne’s as well with next year’s African Cup of Nations now already a reality.
“I am glad to join up with the rest of the squad and training was great. The intensity is really good and I like the level at which they are playing. The thing now is to work hard and try win a place in the team,” Ochieng who arrived in the country Monday morning said.
Kimanzi says this will be an opportune time to test the players and see their ability with the Under-23 also seeing several new players called in.
The squad features several foreign based players including Sweden based Ovellah Ochieng, defender Joseph ‘Crouch’ Okumu who plays in the USA as well as the England based duo.