Why tonight’s clash between Stars and Togo is critical in AFCON 2021 journey
- As Harambee Stars heroically defied the Pharaohs of Egypt away in Alexandria on Thursday to pull off a respectable 1-1 draw, ‘minnows’ Comoros were humiliating a World Cup team Togo, 1-0.
- Michael Olunga’s goal meant a point for Kenya, against the top-ranked team in Group G of the 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers.
- A draw against seven-time Africa champions, to Kenyans, stirred up a lot of hope, setting up an impression that the Francis Kimanzi coached side has what it takes to dispatch the Claude Le Roy coached Togo Hawks when the tow sides exchange tonight beginning 7pm at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
As Harambee Stars heroically defied the Pharaohs of Egypt away in Alexandria on Thursday to pull off a respectable 1-1 draw, ‘minnows’ Comoros were humiliating a World Cup team Togo, 1-0.
Michael Olunga’s goal meant a point for Kenya, against the top-ranked team in Group G of the 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers. A draw against seven-time Africa champions, to Kenyans, stirred up a lot of hope, setting up an impression that the Francis Kimanzi coached side has what it takes to dispatch the Claude Le Roy coached Togo Hawks when the two sides exchange tonight beginning 7pm at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
That Togo lost at home, and Kenya is hosting them in round two of the qualifiers means only a convincing win can be taken by Kenyans. Defeat to Kenya will mathematically put their ticket chase to Cameroon in a serious jeopardy. It therefore births a must win situation for the home team, and Togo is in the same situation too.
Upon landing in Nairobi, Togo coach Leroy appeared to have a lot of information about Kenya if his remarks is anything to go by.
“It will be a tough match. Kenya has very good strikers playing in Japan and China (Michael Olunga and Ayub Timbe), Victor Wanyama and very brilliant defenders. The result in Egypt also speaks volumes about the team but we want to give the best. I was let down by my strikers in the loss to Comoros and I want a total change in character on Monday,” said Le Roy, arguably the most experienced European coach on Africa’s football, having been a regular participant in past Afcon finals.
Le Roy, whose former understudy, Sebastien Migne, happens to be the immediate former Harambee Stars coach appears so know exactly how to stop Kenya.
His admission that his strikers were way below par in performance in their first match, is a cause of alarm for coach Kimanzi who has to tread carefully moreso with his rearguard.
Togo could be missing a top class striker in the frame of former Arsenal man Emmanuel Adebayor who has not fetured lately, but Kimanzi’s defence must be on high alert to thwart any potential danger.
And, that Comoros unlocked The Hawks in Lome, means goals can come for Stars as it was in 2002 during the 2004 AFCON qualifiers, if Olunga and his mates can be clinical as John Baraza, Musa Otieno and Dennis Oliech were then.
Reflecting on the 2013 AFCON qualifiers, Kimanzi, who was fired in his second stint as a coach following a 1-0 defeat by Togo away to Lome, a result then Football Kenya Federation (FKF) boss Sam Nyamweya described as “sad day in Kenya’s football”, has an opportunity to pull of a sweet revenge .
In essence, the Alexandria exploits cannot be over celebrated when there is another opportunity to celebrate afresh and reaffirm the seriousness in the march to Cameroon 2021.
After testing a number of new players in the Uganda and Mozambique friendlies, Kimanzi showed good judgments in his squad he lined up for the Egypt assignment.
Patrick Matasi had to return in his best 11 after Farouk Shikahlo failed to convince in the Mozambique 1-0 defeat, meaning the goalkeeping question still stands.
Sadly, he could not last beyond six minutes on the pitch in Alexandria because of injury, and Ian Otieno finally got his chance. He was a little bit shaky but found his ground as the match wore on. Simply, he has a duty to show up against Togo and at home that he fits the bill.
At right-back, Samuel Olwande was given the opportunity and he did well to cage experienced Mohammed Trezeguet. He showed more maturity than he had in the Mozambique friendly. Composure in the position in his second competitive match would mean the position could be getting someone young to man, after lacking a dependable player to serve with longevity. Poignantly, being fairly slow in his runs, he must not be tempted to attack much, but exploit his near perfect timing and marking to stop whoever is placed on his path.
Joash Onyango and Joseph Stanley Okumu finally partnered at the centre-back role in a competitive match. The duo was solid, as Eric Ouma was on his no doubt best fitted left-back. Against Togo, the same back-four has every reason to be kept unless something out of the ordinary happens.
Lawrence Juma, save for the back-pass blunder that gifted the Pharaohs an easy goal, knew how to distabilise the Egypt midfield on Friday. He will however have to be braver in handling the so physical Togolese. With the expectation to attack more, Juma must dissolve any advances to the Kenyan final third.
Captain Victor Wanyama leadership especially partnering quite a new formation in the midfield (Cliff Nyakeya, Juma, Kenneth Muguna) have not been regular members for long will be needed to ensure mistakes are avoided.
Muguna finished the job after Johanna Omollo was substituted in the second half against Egypt, and depending on the approach Kimanzi picks, he has two good choices in them on who to start.
Omollo could have an edge if it will be more attacking match, while Muguna slightly fits more if there is a reason to defend more. Both can execute the roles almost at the same level, giving a sweet and healthy competition for Kimanzi.
Nyakeya did not disappoint after coming in for injured Timbe. He therefore has a job to ensure his evident industry against the Pharaohs manifests in the Togo clash. He may not run and dribble in the wavelength as Timbe, but he makes Olunga more productive in his deliveries. Kimanzi wanted Timbe to attack alongside Olunga, which was happening quite well before the former was stretchered off.
Nyakeya continued the job well too, and it can only go a notch higher if the home advantage is to be realised fully. Can a natural striker partner Olunga instead, for the job? Yes indeed, especially if there is an early harvest that gives Kimanzi assurance, and either John Mark Makwatta or Jesse Jackson Were can contribute in such a set up.
Eric Johanna is a player Kimanzi will really need for Togo. He can drop back fast to help his full back, rush to the wing and deliver crosses and attempt to score from a distance. Although he is proven in that, he will need to improve in the third skill. His shots must be more assuring, and not obvious ones that end up in goalkeeper’s hands or out of target.
Against Ethiopia in the last AFCON qualifiers in Kasarani, he had such a splendid delivery, which matters a lot especially when Olunga is man-marked.
Egypt appeared vulnerable and Kimanzi’s bravery to stick to attacking principles paid off. The difference between a win and that stalemate was very thin.
In Kimanzi’s paper work therefore, a win for Comoros against the Pharaohs in another Group G match could mean serious battle against the little island nation that is Comoros and the Egyptians, who are likely to be more potent by the time the second FIFA window for the qualifiers swings open. A part from a host of issues they may have to address, lethal Liverpool’s Mohammed Salah will have probably returned to rejig their quest.
Winning all home matches is thus a must for Kimanzi, as there could be a close contention between three teams in the group by the time the campaign culminates.
The experienced coach has now a chance to prove yet again, that homegrown coaches have what it takes to compete at big arenas.
All the best Harambee Stars.
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