NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 10 – National football team Harambee Stars left Nairobi on Sunday night for a 16hr, 30 minutes trip to Cairo ahead of their first 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifier against the Pharaohs on Thursday at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria.
Head coach Francis Kimanzi led a small group of players, mostly composed of local based players in leaving the capital, but he was distraught at the long trip the team has to endure before getting to Alexandria.
“We have to take it as it has happened. We think it’s crazy, but we don’t have a choice. If you have 15-30hrs of return travel when you should be doing around 10, it’s a bit crazy. But if the ministry sees it workable that way, then there’s nothing we can do,” Kimanzi told Capital Sport at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Sunday.
Stars left via an Emirates flight for a five and a half hour journey to Dubai where they are scheduled to have another seven hour, 15 minute lay over before taking a connecting flight to Cairo at noon, with an estimated flight time of two hours and 15 minutes.
After arriving in Cairo, the team is still set to travel to the City of Alexandria which is a two and a half hour trip away from the capital, but there is an option for a short flight.
Stars are still expected to travel back home using the same route after the game on Friday and will be getting back home Saturday afternoon with the second qualifier against Togo lurking on Monday.
Kimanzi is afraid that the effects of fatigue due to the long hours of travel might curtail his team’s efforts, but says nothing will deter their spirit to start the quest to a second consecutive AFCON appearance on a high.
The team started training last Thursday with the group of local based players joined by the Sweden based trio of Erick ‘Marcelo’ Ouma, Eric Johannah and defender Joseph Okumu. On Sunday night for the departure, they were joined by Nkana defender Harun Shakava.
The rest of the foreign based players led by skipper Victor Wanyama are expected to link up with the team in Alexandria. Wanyama left London for Cairo on Sunday night as well.
Kimanzi says his team is ready for the fight that awaits them in Egypt with the squad led by Liverpool forward Mo Salah thirsty to make up for their poor performance at this year’s AFCON on home soil.
“We have had some good few days of training though with a small squad. I appreciate the local sides who agreed to give us their players for a few days and then also we were joined by those from Scandinavia. It is a good start and of course we will have a few more in Egypt,” the coach noted.
He says they are ready for the challenge against Egypt, and notes getting a good result away from home will be a brilliant way to get the campaign going. Also, with back to back qualifiers spaced four days in between, the tactician wants to have at least one win.
“It is the first game and we can’t panic because we know we can do it. It is all about the character we put on the pitch. All of us have to back to back games and it depends on who is luckier. If we are lucky over the two matches, we could go to the break with at least an edge,” he stated.
Kimanzi will have a squad of 25 players in Egypt and he will have an opportunity of further whittling down his squad after using the last two friendlies to try get his definite team.
“We are still checking some players and when you have back to back games, it is important to have a huge squad because between now and Monday next week, a lot can change,” stated the tactician.
Stars are expected to have their first training session in Alexandria on Tuesday, two days before the cracker.