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Wanyama and Kenya out to impress at AFCON

Harambee Stars captain Victor Wanyama passes the ball under pressure from Ismail Gonzalez during a training session at the National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis, France on June 11, 2019. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

CAIRO, Egypt, Jun 22Kenya’s unimpressive record at the Africa Cup of Nations reads just one win in 14 matches, but Victor Wanyama and co. are eager to make a splash as they return to the tournament after a 15-year absence.

The Harambee Stars have never progressed beyond the first round of the continent’s flagship event in five attempts, and will be up against it in a group that pits them alongside a fancied Senegal and talented Algeria.

As the lone representative from one of Europe’s top leagues, Wanyama will shoulder the bulk of responsibility as captain of a youthful Kenyan squad that embarked on a three-week boot camp in France to shed distractions at home in preparation for their Egyptian adventure.

The tenacious midfielder, who turns 28 next week, is looking forward to the occasion after ending the season on a bitter note following Tottenham’s Champions League final defeat by Liverpool, a match he watched from the bench despite starting both legs of the semi-finals.

“It is a very big disappointment not winning the final, but we have to move on,” Wanyama told AFP during Kenya’s training camp in Marcoussis, France’s national rugby training facility. “It can happen. We cannot stay on that. We have to move on and focus on other things.

“For me it is a relief to get back and have something to focus on, to forget about the final. With the national team, it is something that we have to focus on. We have a very big tournament ahead of us.”

Kenya’s last trip to the tournament, in 2004, coincided with their only win to date — a consolation 3-0 victory over Burkina Faso in a group stage exit.

Their passage to Egypt for this edition was ignited by a surprise victory on home soil over Ghana, one of the continent’s top performers.

– Lifelong dream –

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Harambee Stars skipper Victor Wanyama controls the ball during the team’s first training session at the June 30 Stadium training ground on June 20, 2019

“It has always been my dream. I think all the players dream to get to the Afcon tournament. It is a big tournament. Everyone will be watching. We are happy to get in this stage and hopefully we can be doing this, qualifying every time,” said Wanyama.

“That has been our target first to get to Afcon. Now we have achieved our dream. We need to showcase what we can do as well, to go out there and to show what Kenya is all about as well, fight together and try to get results.

“People don’t know us. We have improved for a very long time. We have good players who have been together for so long. We know each other for long, it won’t be easy for anyone to play against us.”

Wanyama insisted he doesn’t draw overly on his experiences with Tottenham in Europe, but admitted he tries to encourage a close bond between those in the national team.

“I don’t speak about it because it is a different tournament,” he said. “The only thing I can use for them, I say like Tottenham would go there because of the team spirit we had, the fighting spirit we had, the togetherness we had, that’s the only thing I try to emulate from my team at Tottenham.

“I said to them every time we need to be together, we need to fight together and for each other, we need to work as a family, and the results can come. We’ll never know where we can reach. With that, I know we can even go all the way.”

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