Okumbi letting Harambee Stars’ shine win his critics over
Harambee Stars First Coach Stanley Okumbi believes the national team is yet to hit top gear despite their impressive eight-match unbeaten run.
The Stars are slowly growing in confidence and showed signs they are maturing into a solid side with their latest friendly wins over Mozambique and Liberia.
More importantly, the players finally seem to be enjoying themselves out in the field and playing with passion with the positive vibe seen all the way from their training sessions.
Criticized heavily during his appointment as the successor of Bobby Williamson at the helm of the national team, Okumbi appears to be getting the best out of the Stars and slowly silencing his critics.
The former Mathare United and Sofapaka boss had the worst start to his tenure, losing to Guinea Bissau home and away in his debut assignments, as Kenya crashed out of the 2017 Gabon African Cup of Nations (AFCON) race.
By then, furious fans were already calling for his resignation with scrappy draws against Tanzania and Sudan in home friendlies all but inviting more pressure from the football circles.
However, after silencing a fancied Congo Brazzaville side 2-1 albeit being a dead rubber AFCON qualifier match, the good results started pouring in.
The soft-spoken Dutch trained tactician then drew away against AFCON-bound Uganda, following it with another stalemate against 2014 AFCON champions Zambia away.
He then went on to break the long-standing jinx of failing to win away from home with a famous 1-0 victory over Congo Kinshasa, since that 3-0 mauling of Burkina Faso in Tunis, Tunisia in the 2004 AFCOn under coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee. (other away wins were within Cecafa confines).
Like the Biblical Nazareth that Nathaniel questioned whether it could produce anything good until he saw Jesus, Okumbi has convinced he can change Stars fortunes if the current record is anything to go by.
However, Okumbi, backed by Musa Otieno and Frank Ouna in his technical bench, says he has not yet found the team he is looking for.
“That feeling we could do something major before 2022 World Cup that president Nick pledged to take Kenya to is real. The more we win the more we develop confidence ahead of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers.
“We also have CHAN ahead, which is an opportunity to challenge for more glory but we have to do a lot of research to find more quality players for the national team. We are doing good so far but we have to keep working hard to take the team to the next level,” Okumbi told Citizen Digital.
He is particularly concerned with his attack department, that includes potent Sweden based IF Djugardens goal poacher Michael Olunga, Zambia’s Zesco United’s Jesse Were , Belgium’s Lierse’s Ayub Timbe among others for the few goals registered in the past matches.
“It’s not about the strikers but the team, but we have to work on converting the chances that we create.
“Of course can’t compare the player’s output at club level with the national team’s, there are dynamics including time of training together.
“Sometimes we have them in camp three or two days before our matches (foreign based players) so you may not see exactly what you see when they are in their clubs, but I’m sure goals will start coming as we progress,” Okumbi underscored.
Only against Congo Brazzaville did his men score more than one goal, in the 2-1win courtesy of Mathare United’s Erick Johanna and Timbe.
Against Liberia, Okumbi gave the chance to four uncapped players, affirming he is not done building his team.
Amos Ekhalie, who plies his trade with Finnish 2016 season champions IFK Mariehemn, Osborne Monday of Kenya’s premier league side Tuker FC and Posta Rangers duo Simon Mbugua and Calvin Odongo were capped.
While a remarkable step has been made, Okumbi says it is not time to over emphasize the milestones achieved but to aim higher.
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