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2019 in review: Stars taste AFCON after 15yrs

Harambee Stars players line up before their Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) match against Algeria at the June 30 Stadium in Cairo on June 23, 2019. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 25 – In a mixed year for national football team Harambee Stars, what stood out for the team was their first appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations in 15 years, taking their place in Group C with neighbors Tanzania and eventual finalists Algeria and Senegal.

Stars came within just one point of progressing to the round of 16, but left Cairo with only one win, a hard labored 3-2 victory over Tanzania in their penultimate group match.

That victory came in between 2-0 and 3-0 losses at the hands of Algeria and Senegal respectively with the two African giants ending up facing each other in the final, a match that the Algerians won 1-0 for their first African title since 1990.

But for fans back at home, it was not the result, but the manner in which Kenya lost that pained them the most. For a huge select, it was felt Stars didn’t fight enough especially against the two giants.

Harambee Stars head coach Sebastien Migne speaks tactical points to his players during a training session at the National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis, Paris on June 13, 2019. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

The team had invested in preparations with a group of 26 players flying out for a three week training camp in Marcoussis, the outskirts of the French capital Paris.

While in Paris, the team faced Madagascar in a friendly match, a game they won 1-0 before playing DR Congo in Madrid a week to the AFCON, drawing 1-1.

-CHAN exit, Migne departure

After their AFCON campaign in Cairo, the team came back home and immediately got to work, as they faced Tanzania in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers.

Back to back 0-0 draws and a penalty shoot out loss left Stars out of a first ever qualification to the tournament and the result left head coach Sebastien Migne as a casualty as he was fired from the job alongside his entire technical bench.

Harambee Stars head coach Sebastien Migne walks into training during a session at the National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis, Paris on June 13, 2019. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

It was what had been coming for a long time. His tactics and methods had been on the scrutiny as he was oft accused of setting up a defensive game plan, even when there was no need to.

Sources intimate to Capital Sports that the Frenchman’s style had deprived most players of their freedom to play and they played ‘in fear’ as they did not want to be bashed by the tactician.

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During the friendly match against Madagascar in Paris, Migne fell out with winger Ayub Masika after he lashed out at him in the touchline accusing him of keeping the ball too much. It was the start of a frosty relationship between the two.

-Tense moment

Capital Sports can also reveal that there was a tense moment in the dressing room during the match against Tanzania in Egypt with skipper Wanyama furious with the coach’s tactics of allegedly playing a defensive shape against Tanzania.

Wanyama is said to have been red furious and stated that they would not defend in the second half and the team will play the best way possible to ensure they won.

Migne was eventually replaced by Francis Kimanzi, his assistant for the entire spell he was in Kenya.

Harambee Stars head coach Francis Kimanzi during a past training session at the Kasarani Stadium. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

Kimanzi took Kenya into the qualifiers of the 2021 Cup of Nations with the first match against Egypt ending in a 1-1 draw in Alexandria. It was an encouraging result for the side, picking up a point against the five-time African champions away from home.

But, the second match was a lull, a 1-1 draw with Togo at home.

But there was more than meets the eye in this match. Sources inside the team believe that former coach Migne ‘sold them out’ to his coaching godfather Claude Le Roy who is Togo’s boss.

The team believes that Migne fed the tactician with info and videos on Kenya having been with the team for close to a year and with a huge amount of training and match day videos enough for any coach to prepare adequately for a match.

-CECAFA performance

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Stars ended the year at the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in Kampala, where the most talked about subject from their Uganda sojourn was not the fact that they relinquished the title, but the fact that they lost to Eritrea.

Harambee Stars forward Oscar Wamalwa in action against Eritrea during the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup semi-final at the Lugogo Complex in Kampala, Uganda on December 17, 2019. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

The Red Sea Boys were playing their first CECAFA Championship since 2012 and ended up thrashing Stars 4-1 in the semi-finals. It was the biggest loss for the national team in recent years.

The team managed to bounce back with a 2-1 victory over Tanzania in the play-off, but Kimanzi left happy that his young squad had gained experience.

-Players abroad

It was a tough year for skipper Victor Wanyama in the English Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur. A return from a long injury lay off saw him struggle for play-time under former head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

The midfielder was often overlooked by the Argentine and hasn’t played much this season.

Harambee Stars and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Victor Wanyama celebrates a goal during a past English Premier League match.

He had been primed to depart White Hart Lane in the summer, but a protracted move to Club Brugge in Belgium broke down in the final minutes as they could not agree on personal terms.

He went back to Spurs and even with the arrival of new boss Jose Mourinho, things haven’t been better for the midfield workhorse. He has only made one appearance as an 82nd minute substitute in the Champions League against Bayern Munich.

While it has been a tough year for Wanyama, the same couldn’t be said about striker Michael Olunga.

The forward has been in blazing form in the Japanese second tier with Kashiwa Reysol, with the highlight of his season being the eight goals he scored in a 13-1 win over Kyoto Sanga in the final day of the season.

Olunga’s form saw him score 27 goals and lay up nine assists for Reysol in 30 matches, contributing to 42pc of the team’s goals to help them back up to the J1 league.

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Olunga scored eight goals in Japanese Div 2 league as his club won 13-1

He was also Kenya’s star man in terms of national team duty, scoring two goals at the AFCON and netting the single goal in the 1-1 draw against Egypt last month.

Meanwhile, several Kenyan players have been on the move.

Left back Erick ‘Marcelo’ Ouma made his big leap finally, signing for Swedish top tier side AIK from third tier club Vassalunds IF. He followed compatriot Joseph Okumu to the Swedish top tier with the former Chemelil Sugar man having signed for IF Elfsborg.

Defender David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng also moved back to the Saudi leagues when he signed for second tier side Al Ansar.

Winger Cliff Nyakeya also made his first pro move when he left Mathare United to join Egyptian side Al Masry.

What lies ahead in 2020

Stars will have another attempt at qualifying for the Cup of Nations. The qualification process for Cameroon 2021 will be completed in November.

Harambee Stars captain Victor Wanyama tussle with Togo’s Koffi Franco and TAKORA Lalawela in 2021 AFCON Qualifier match played at the Kasarani Stadium on 18th November 2019. Photo/RAYMOND MAKHAYA

Stars will face Comoros in back to back home and away matches on August 31 and September 8, then host Egypt at home on October 5 before travelling to Togo for the final group match on November 9.

Statistically, 10 points are usually enough to see a team qualify for AFCON. Stars are on two currently and if they get maximum points in the home and away ties to Comoros, then they will only need a victory in any of their last two matches to proceed.

But before the 2021 AFCON qualifiers Stars will kick start the journey to try and qualify for a first ever World Cup when the Qatar 2022 qualifiers kick off in March.

The draw for the group stages is expected to be conducted in February.

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