NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 13 – Harambee Stars will look to put a troubled pre-match build up behind their backs as they start their campaign to qualify for the 2021 African Cup of Nations with the opening Group G match against Egypt’s Pharaohs in Alexandria on Thursday night.
Stars have allegedly not yet paid for their accommodation in Alexandria due to the ongoing tussle between Football Kenya Federation boss Nick Mwendwa and Sports Ministry principle secretary Kirimi Kaberia and they might be blocked from leaving unless the dues are paid.
As at Wednesday night, the players were comfortably staying in the hotel after returning from their last training session at the Borg el Arab Stadium even as the hotel waits for the bills to be cleared.
But, that notwithstanding, Stars have a gigantic task ahead of them as they go in search of back to back qualifications to the Cup of Nations.
Head coach Francis Kimanzi believes it will be a tough tie, even as the real litmus test of his tenure starts. Kimanzi was appointed in August to take over from Frenchman Sebastien Migne who was fired after Kenya failed to qualify for the African nations Championship (CHAN).
Kimanzi has been in charge for two matches, a 1-1 draw with Uganda and a 1-0 loss to Mozambique, both in friendly matches in Nairobi.
“Both Kenya and Egypt are in transition because I was also not the head coach for the last AFCON just like Egypt have a new coach. History favors them as they have been dominant in Africa but that will be a motivation for us, that we are playing against one of the best teams in the continent,” Kimanzi told Capital Sport.
He added; “It is the first round so we can’t panic much. We know we can do it but it is all about the character we have to put on the ground on Thursday.”
Kenya has always not fared well against North Africa opposition, more so at their own backyard.
But that besides, Stars have a dream to qualify for the Cup of Nations again.
“We have been there, we know how it feels and we definitely want to be back there again. It will be a tough match but as players we are ready for the task ahead. We have a good squad which has a good blend of new and experienced players and all we will play for is a positive result,” skipper Victor Wanyama opined.
The Egyptians will be without star player Mohammed Salah who has been ruled out with an ankle injury but even in his absence, the Pharaohs are still a strong outfit.
Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan has been in fine form for his club Aston Villa and will be looked at as the man to get the goals for the home side.
Stars will meanwhile rely on the ever present Michael Olunga who has been in hot form for his Japanese second tier club Kashiwa Reysol and he is expected to carry his goal scoring form to Egypt.
Jesse Were is also in the fray and despite also enjoying good form in Zambia with Zesco United is yet to score a goal for the national team, a statistic that saw him alienated by former coach Migne who openly stated he was not the right man for Stars.
The only major absentee for Kimanzi’s charges will be defender Brian Mandela who is still recovering from a knee injury he picked before the 2019 AFCON. His absence was seen when Kenya lost two matches against Senegal and Algeria.
But, he will continue relying on the partnership of Joash Onyango and youngster Joseph Okumu who paired in both friendly matches against Uganda and Mozambique.
A positive result away in Alexandria will be a welcome boost for Stars who will travel home to take on Togo on Tuesday night in a schedule that is set to test the endurance of Kimanzi’s charges.
But, the tactician is unfazed.
“We all have the same situation but if we are lucky enough in the two matches, then we can go back home with a small edge,” Kimanzi said.