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Afcon disappointment offers ray of hope for Kenya

Michael Olunga
Kenya forward Michael Olunga (R) vies for the ball with Algeria midfielder Adlene Guedioura during an Africa Cup of Nations match at theJune Stadium in Cairo. PHOTO | AFP 

Harambee Stars bowed out of the 2019 African Cup of Nations after soaking in seven goals and winning one game, marking a bitter-sweet return to the continent’s greatest soccer extravaganza.

The team however saved its pride by edging neighbouring Tanzania in an epic-East African affair and for close to 50 minutes matched Senegal-the number one team on the continent before capitulating to lose by three goals-two big positives for our boys.

This was a similar show as the Afcon 2004 edition where Kenya lost 3-0 against Senegal, 3-1 to Mali before hitting Burkina Faso 3-0.

With attention now shifting to three major tournaments in the next three years, the Football Kenya Federation (FKF), team sponsors Betin and the government has time to build on Harambee Stars rather expected disappointment in Egypt.

French tactician, Sebastian Migne took Kenya to Afcon after 15 years, emerging second in a group that had continental powerhouse, Black Stars of Ghana and Walias of Ethiopia-a team that has in recent years matched Kenya.

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The Nick Mwendwa-led FKF should ensure continuity in the current Harambee Stars team under Migne who has given fresh hope to Kenyan football. Politics and un-necessary side-shows will un-do this great step.

The Frenchman has a young team that includes exciting left-back Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma, two-goal hero against Tanzania Michael ‘Engineer’ Olunga among others under the experienced Tottenham Hotspurs midfield cog, Victor Mugubi.

The harsh reality of competing against the likes of Senegal and Algeria hit us that we are still a work in process. The current crop got its first taste of Africa’s most elite soccer laying the ground for success ahead with proper planning.

With qualifiers for the African Championship of Nations (CHAN) 2020-for players based on the continent starting, majority of the players who did duty in Egypt will face Tanzania later this month in the first round of qualifiers.

Backed by an ever-improving top division league, where Gor Mahia has staked back its claim as one of the continent’s best club sides and Coast-based Bandari and Kariobangi Sharks who face English side Everton in the SportPesa Cup this weekend, the coach has quality players at his disposal.

If Migne continues to enjoy the friendly environment where for the first time in many years, Stars set camp in France at the luxurious Marcoussis Cedex facilities.

Allowances were never an issue and the team got all support. Well-done to Betin-the sponsors, FKF and the government. With similar support going ahead, the team has no reason to fail.

The Chan 2020 edition will further help the team prepare for the qualifiers for the Afcon 2021 and the biggest dream yet-qualifying for Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The disastrous outing in Egypt has seen the coach’s selection questioned on why he left ‘key’ players at home even as the team was defensively exposed for its naivety on Africa’s biggest stage.

In the fans’ assessment, Migne plotted the team’s fall in Egypt but he is the man who after 15 years took us back to Afcon and he deserves every bit of support.

The current team should be spared the usual politics that saw Kenya disappear from the continental soccer map since 2004, consistency in selection is key and so is the promotion of deserving young talents into the team.

The jury will be out in the next two years and as they say, a coach is as good as his last and Migne failed the test.

Fans are keen to see the Frenchman erase the 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of a Sadio Mane-led Senegal but all his not lost.

The country is however enduring the humiliation of seeing Uganda Cranes-that was nowhere on the continental map in 2004 cruise into the round of 16 in Egypt.

The team convincingly defeated Democratic Republic of Congo before drawing with Zimbabwe and losing to Egypt to finish second in the group.

Uganda Cranes has only missed one edition of the CHAN since the inaugural one held in Ivory Coast in 2009, a lesson to Kenya that consistency is key.

But as the Frenchman cautioned a while ago, it is a step by step journey and the harsh reality in Egypt was the start.

“First we need to qualify for the Cup of Nations and other tournaments like the Chan (Africa Nations Championship) to improve our rankings then after we can dream of the World Cup, that’s why I am here to try and help,” Migne said last year.

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