Why Stars must seize Comoros chance


Why Stars must seize Comoros chance
Harambee Stars players take a water-break during Monday's training session in Kampala. PHOTO/Courtesy

In Summary

  • Ahead of their second Group G match of the 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against Togo last year, I elucidated here why a win in the match would have been so vital
  • Although the then Francis Kimanzi led side fought hard against the West Africans, their effort was not enough to gather three points at home
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Ahead of their second Group G match of the 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against Togo last year, I elucidated here why a win in the match would have been so vital.

Although the then Francis Kimanzi led side fought hard against the West Africans, their effort was not enough to gather three points at home.

It took Johanna Omolo’s brilliant effort from outside the box to earn a 1-1 draw. Kenyans expected more as the team was fresh from forcing Egypt to a similar stalemate away to Alexandria, the top seeded team in the group.

I said, and I wish to repeat, that on paper, Kenya is not competing against Egypt in this group but Comoros and Togo. With due respect to the two teams while appreciating any result can be registered in the beautiful game, I reflect on the draw day and conclude there is a reason the seven-time AFCON champions were seeded in the group.

Thus, when either Comoros or Togo is making impressive strides in the early stages of the qualifiers, there is every reason to worry about Harambee Stars chances for the Cameroon fiesta, postponed to 2022 due to COVID-19 disruption.

See, Egypt have the might of ruthlessly forcing their way to Cameroon especially in the last fixtures, having started poorly against Kenya and Comoros. One of those is against Stars.

The fact that Kenya almost snatched a win away to Egypt does not guarantee an easy fixture in the return leg. A lot has changed, and more will change between now and the time the two teams lock horns. For example, on a normal day Michael Olunga would have been on Stars XI for the Comoros match on Wednesday evening, but COVID-19 says no.

With the so dynamic events in the sport, it is only prudent to reap the best early to avoid unnecessary pressure in the last fixtures.

So, with the lost opportunity to clobber Togo at home, there should be no room for mistakes against Comoros.

Head coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee has succeeded Francis Kimanzi and his boss Nick Mwendwa made it clear he wants Kenya back to AFCON after the 2019 qualification. In fact, Mwendwa, as some of the players have exuded, Kenya must advance from the qualification conversation to making impact in the biggest African football competition.

He was correct in his submission on Tuesday, that the qualification journey would be complicated if Comoros got anything from Nairobi.

So how does he assemble his team for the must win match?

With 36 players in camp, the biggest test for the veteran coach will be bold decisions when naming his XI, especially in positions where there is a need to introduce new players. New players, in the sense of relegating the regular faces where need be.

For example, without Olunga in the team, Mulee has a clean slate to hand his mantle to either of the four strikers in camp; who would have started from the bench had the Japan based hit-man made it to camp.

Will he be brave enough to trust young Benson Omala if he is the one who has inspired most in camp despite his unfamiliarity in the national team? Would he start last minute arrival and late inclusion John Mark Makwatta for the job if he was not convinced by Masoud Juma, Omala and John Avire?

What about the decision about centre-backs Joash Onyango, Brian Mandela and Josep`h Stanley Okumu, and the right-back slot that has arguably not found a regular to fit in for long?

How he manages the local based players who have not been active since March this year due to COVID-19 matters too, as the October 9 friendly against Zambia exposed their fitness levels especially in the second half.

Though Stars won 2-1, Kimanzi conceded the fitness question made his work difficult in the last stages of the duel. Facing a team whose players have been active in Europe even with the pandemic situation, a balance must be struck.

Comoros arrived on Tuesday evening aboard a chartered flight, and will not sample anything in Nairobi outside the pitch after the match. They soon return to prepare for the return match in Moroni, set for Sunday.

With the COVID-19 situation, nothing should be left to chance, including how the tests would be conducted upon arrival in Moroni.

Importantly, Mulee will have a firsthand experience with the team in a competitive match after watching it from the stands or TV for the last 10 years.

The report form of every player in the match, then, should be applied in decisions for the Moroni showdown four days later.

All the best Harambee Stars!

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Story By Jacob Icia
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