Kenya One Matasi, a pillar in Stars’ AFCON journey
- As it stands, Kenya is on the brink of securing their African Cup of Nations ticket and with two more qualifying rounds rounds to go their return to the continental fiesta after 14 years out is almost a certainty
- If Sierra Leone, competitors in Group F of the qualifiers are not reinstated after their indefinite suspension by the world football governing body FIFA, Stars will have sailed through without having to kick a ball
Jacob Icia is a chief footballer writer at RMS Ltd
As it stands, Kenya is on the brink of securing their African Cup of Nations (AFCON) ticket and with two more qualifying rounds rounds to go their return to the continental fiesta after 14 years out is almost a certainty.
If Sierra Leone, competitors in Group F of the qualifiers are not reinstated after their indefinite suspension by the world football governing body FIFA, Stars will have sailed through without having to kick a ball.
One of of the pillars that have been key for the Harambee Stars’ qualifying campaign is Patrick Matasi, Kenya’s finest goalkeeper at the moment and who is earning huge praise from head coach Sebastian Migne.
Apart from the opening qualifying match in which Kenya lost 2-1 away at Sierra Leone with Gor Mahia’s Boniface Oluoch on goaltenders, Matasi has manned the posts in the rest of the three matches including the phenomenal 1-0 victory over four-time Afcon champions Ghana in September.
Key he is, keeping three continuous clean sheets in the last three matches, to keep Stars march to Cameroon valid.
Unknown to many football fans, Matasi is among the youthful players of the generation that has a very faint memory of Kenya’s last AFCON tournament.
Yet, so determined is he, to rekindle the fire that has lacked for over a decade that he needs no inspiration to do what he knows best.
“I don’t remember much about Kenya’s last qualification to the Afcon. At that time in 2004, I was a 14-year old concentrating on school and helping my parents in their sugarcane farm. I could not even afford to watch a match. I just get to hear of the stories from the likes of Duncan Ochieng and Dennis Oliech,” Matasi told Citizen Digital from his new Addia Ababa base.
For him, the long wait to feature in the biggest continental showpiece is by happenstance, and does not reflect Kenya’s football potential in the real sense.
“I think we have been unlucky not to qualify for that long. We have some of the best players in the world and resources as well, compared to some other countries that have been making it.
“There is also alot of politics surrounding football and at times, this affects the team’s performance,” offered the new Ethiopia’s St. Georges custodian.
How to win
Matasi believes Migne and former coach Paul Put have contributed immensely in building a winning team, an element that had lacked for along time.
“This campaign has been the best of the many recent ones. We started off with a loss to Sierra Leone, but I can say we have been lucky to work under two very brilliant coaches in the frame of Put and Migne.
“They have taught us how to win matches. We won Cecafa with Put and he is a very good motivator. Migne is also a very clever coach who has improved every player by 10 percent. FKF and the government have done their part too, but the coaches have been the main difference,” explained the former Tusker FC ace.
In his stubborn self-believe, Matasi who dethroned Oluoch from the Stars number one jersey wants Sierra Leone in Nairobi to serve ‘revange’ enroute to next year’s extravaganza.
“We are not yet there yet but I’m confident we will play in Cameroon. There is the Sierra Leone issue we don’t know if they will come back or not. I will prefer we play them in November and beat them to qualify. We need to settle matters on the pitch even on how they treated us in Free Town,” averred the no nonsense shot-stopper.
Back on the map
For the former Posta Rangers keeper, an Afcon spot is not all Harambee Stars should celebrate, remembering the last outing was quite uninspiring.
Then under the tutelage of Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee, Kenya lost two matches winning one, thus a group stage elimination in Tunisia.
Both Mali and Senegal were ruthless against Mulee’s charges who included mercurial Mike Okoth (Liverpool’s Divock Origi father) and a budding Oliech then, humbling them with three goals each.
A turn around in the last match saw Emmanuel ‘Ake’ Mutendago, John Baraza (current Sofapaka coach) and Oliech score one each to sink Burkina Faso, and that’s where Matasi would love his current team to pick from.
“Playing in Cameroon will be my ultimate desire, but it is not a dream. I’m thinking further, we have to win a couple of games over there. We have to ensure Kenyan football is back to the map, but let’s finish with the qualification process first before speaking much,” underscored Matasi.
So far, he recalls Ethiopia’s opposition away to Bahir Dar as the most grueling for the team in the campaign. Stars endured an ‘hostile’ environment to force a barren stalemate that even coach Migne acknowledged was a tall order to register.
“The 2019 Afcon qualifier away to Ethiopia was the toughest. The stadium was full, with almost 100,000 people. They were singing and making noise. You could barely hear the coach, or teammate.
“Ethiopia also played very well. Each player had to be at his very best for us to pick that point,” he stated.
At a personal level, Matasi attributes his steady rise to stardom to hardwork, dedication and good brains refining his skills; something he hopes to carry forward to St. Georges.
“I decided to work extra. I was lucky to work under former Stars goalkeepers trainers like Haggai Azande and Lawrence Webo who have really helped me to become who I am today.
“If playing for St George’s will affect me, it will have to be in a positive way. I’m yet to play a competitive game here but can already feel the pressure. I’m also working under very good coaches and can also feel improvement from my end. I will only get better and the national team will be the main beneficiary,” declared the ever confident goalkeeper.
The difference in the Ethiopian football environment from Kenya’s convinces Matasi his recent league switch is a big plus in his career, which he notes the start of it’s turning point was at West Sugar Kenya.
“Things are very professional here at St. Georges. The pitches are excellent. The facilities are also good. I cannot wait to get started. From what I see here, Kenyan clubs have a long way to go.
“My current status is as a result of consistent hard work from the time I played for West Sugar Kenya in the final of the GOTV shield, until now.
With the Cameroon jingles already ringing loud ready to herald a new Kenyan generation to the table of continental football merit, Matasi emphasis on proper preparation is as loud.
“Preparations! There has to be an elaborate schedule complete with high level friendly matches once we qualify,” he concluded, advising the young players to work hard and believe as they wait patiently for their day.
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