PARIS, France, Jun 14 – Harambee Stars head coach Sebastien Migne has revealed that youngster Joseph Okumu and Gor Mahia defensive stalwart Joash Onyango will man the central defense during Saturday’s friendly match against DR Congo in Madrid, Spain.
Migne has been forced to make alterations from the first friendly against Madagascar with Brian Mandela ruled out after picking a knee injury in training on Monday while his partner Musa Mohammed will be rested for precaution as he is recovering from a thigh strain.
Okumu came on as a second half substitute for Mohammed while Joash was an unused sub.
“We will manage against DR Congo with a new central defense. It is a good opportunity for them to show me their quality and a new answer. I don’t like to move my defense a lot but now I don’t have a choice,” Migne said.
“It will be an opportunity to see the behavior of Okumu at the high level maybe because it is easier coming on as a second half substitute. He will start against DR Congo and also for Joash. He already showed that he can play at this level and we will see if he is ready to compete now and to come back. I am waiting for an answer,” Migne added.
He added; “We lost Mandela which is bad for us and bad for him also because he is a key player and a leader in the team but we cannot give up. We have to find a solution.”
Stars will test themselves against a tougher opponent under the Madrid sun with the 7pm (8pm EAT) kick off at the Estadio de Santa Ana, but most important for Migne will be to keep his side fit and avoid injuries.
“We will try to win of course but the most important will be to avoid injuries before AFCON. Congo will be a good opponent because they are strong and one of the favorites to compete for the Cup. It will be a good match to prepare and learn ahead of Algeria, Senegal and Tanzania,” the tactician stated.
“I want to develop some good mentality in the team. We lost it in the first half against Madagascar because we were not far to lose at half time. We came back in the second half but what I want is to play on the same level the whole game. Football is not one half,” Migne noted.
“We need to try and avoid conceding goals and keep our confidence. It is important before Algeria,” added the Frenchman.
Also top in the coach’s priority is improving the strike force, something he says he has been working on hard in training over the past few days.
“We need to work on set pieces and creating more chances. I try not to be conceding goals but that is not to mean I am defensive. It is not in my team or tactics to park the bus but we need to be compact as a team from the back to the front,” Migne noted.
Stars have had a difficulty scoring goals, with the only high scoring tie in the qualifiers being the 3-0 victory at home against Ethiopia. The 1-0 win over Ghana at home was via an own goal while the away trip in Ethiopia was a 0-0 result and the one in Accra a 0-1 defeat with a late goal.
Stars have been hard at work at their training base in Marcoussis, on the outskirts of Paris for the last two weeks now and the tactician says he is pleased with what he has achieved with the team, only lamenting that the weather was not near perfect.
“I am really happy because we have a possibility to work in a good condition with up to three sessions a day. But, we are only surprised because usually in June the weather is better and it was not very good at times. But we will have a chance of acclimatization when we go to Madrid because it is hotter and also because we go to Egypt early,” Migne noted.
The coach carried with him a 27-man squad but on Tuesday reduced it to 23, two of the exits necessitated by injury while two did not meet his threshold.
“I had to make a choice because at the end of the day we had to remain with 23 for the AFCON. That means you have to cancel some smiles, some good behavior in the camp and sometimes you just need to find a good balance in the team,”
“We had a long reflection with the staff. It was bad for us when Mandela got injured. Some players like Bernard (Ochieng) are now in the team because usually, he was to be among the four to go back home but now he has a chance to be in the AFCON,” Migne explained.
The tactician has also praised the attitude of youngster John Avire in the team after he made through into the squad having impressed him in training and the friendly against Madagascar.
“He is on the way to learn and it is important for the future of Kenya to have him with us, stay with us during the camp and learn. He is happy to be here and happy to be second after Olunga. He is ready to compete and he has shown something interesting and that is exactly what I want,” Migne stated.
The striker is second on Migne’s priority list after Michael Olunga and he believes he will offer a good solution and alternative for the team at the Cup of Nations.
Migne has meanwhile asked the fans to stand behind the team as they prepare for their first AFCON in 15 years, especially after rising up from a first round defeat to Sierra Leone in the qualifiers.
“I am surprised since when I came to Kenya one year ago and it’s a real dream for me, a real dream for us and I don’t want to wake up from this dream. I want to continue dreaming. I don’t want to wake up from the dream, otherwise it will be a nightmare,”
“My dream for Kenya is our dream as a team and a dream for all the stakeholders. I ask the fans to continue supporting us,” the coach opined.
-Timothy Olobulu is reporting from Paris, France-