NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 11 – Defender Joseph Okumu has termed it a dream come true making it into Kenya’s final 23-man squad for the Africa Cup of Nations which kicks off on June 21 in Cairo, Egypt.
The Harambee Stars Under-23 captain had initially been brought in to the squad to learn and train with the rest of the senior team members, but his performance in last Friday’s friendly match against Madagascar earned him a place in the team.
“It was of an impact to me because it helped me prove myself to the coach because being on the training ground and playing is not just enough. I have to be in a game situation to prove my worth and that is the most important thing to me,” Okumu told Capital Sport.
This was only his second cap for the senior team having made his debut against Sudan in a friendly match at the Kasarani Stadium two and a half years ago and had to wait all that while before making his second cap.
He came on as a second half substitute in the game against Madagascar and his performance drew a lot of praise from not only the coach and captain, but the fans who watched the tie as well.
“It has been a good experience being with the team for several years; not playing but probably just being on the bench, observing and seeing what’s happening around. I have learnt a lot and I feel that I am ready,” stated the young defender who turns out for Royal Monarchs in the United States.
Okumu will most likely start in Stars’ friendly match against DR Congo in Madrid on Saturday especially with Brian Mandela’s injury and Musa Mohammed’s absence with a thigh strain.
The defender says he is ready for the task ahead of him and has promised to give his best even till the Africa Cup of Nations if given an opportunity by the coach.
“I have to keep working to ensure that I get a place in the team. In my position, there are several experienced players around me and learning from them has been great. At this point, I know I am capable of making a good performance because of the guidance I have received,” Okumu stated.
He is however heartbroken that teammate Mandela who he ranks as one of his mentors in the game will be unavailable due to injury.
“Mandela has been one of my mentors and I have been looking up to him a lot. He has been of great help to me up to where I am now and he has played a crucial role in building my career especially when we were both in South Africa. Playing alongside him for the national team was a pleasure and also the experienced players in the team like Victor (Wanyama),” stated the young defender.
Okumu hopes to impress, if given a chance at the Cup of Nations especially now that he looks to secure a full professional contract with his club Monarchs in the USA.
-Timothy Olobulu is reporting from Paris, France-