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Are the Harambee Stars ready for the Afcon qualifiers?

3:48 PM EDT 10/16/19
KENNETH MUGUNA of Kenya Harambee Stars vs EDILMISON DANIEL of Mozambique.
The national team were exposed yet again after failing to find the back of the net ahead of the upcoming qualifying campaign

Under coach Francis Kimanzi, Kenya's Harambee Stars have managed an underwhelming draw and a defeat so far.

The former Mathare United tactician returned to handle the national team for his third stint following the exit of Sebastien Migne, and so far he has managed a 1-1 draw against Uganda before falling 1-0 to Mozambique on Sunday.

Kenya have no more friendlies on the horizon after the match against Libya was cancelled, meaning that Kimanzi and the technical bench will head straight for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, set to start in November, without any more opportunities to prepare in a game context. 

The Stars, who are drawn in Group G alongside Egypt, Togo, and Comoros, will start their qualifying campaign against the Pharaohs on November 11 away before they welcome Togo to Kasarani on November 19.

However, watching Kenya play against Mozambique, the team still have a long way to go to be ready for the qualifiers. Their defence, where coach Kimanzi preferred Gor Mahia man Joash Onyango, Eric Ouma and Joseph Okumu, was disjointed, committing blunder after blunder.

Goalkeeper Faruk Shikalo, who was starting in place of Patrick Matasi, was also a pale shadow his former self; he looked shaky in handling the balls coming from the wings and was also at fault when he left his goal unmarked to clear a ball which almost gifted Os Mambas the opening goal in the second half.

Kenya’s defensive blunders came back to haunt them when second-half substitute Canhembe Amancio capitalized on a mistake by Okumu, who failed to clear the ball after trying to dribble past two Mozambique players and lost the ball, to round Okumu and Onyango before firing home past the advancing Shikalo for the winning goal.

Coach Kimanzi was not happy with the performance of his defenders when asked what the problem was.

“We conceded a very silly goal, no defender playing in the top arena is allowed to do what my players did at the back to give away such a goal,” Kimanzi told Goal. “We must accept we were undone because conceding like that is not acceptable in modern football.”

Whereas Kimanzi feels the defence was to blame, the team’s wingers and strikers also struggled to make an impact against Mozambique. Lead striker Michael Olunga was the main culprit, especially in the first half after he squandered three clear-cut chances to put Kenya ahead.

Wingers Clifton Miheso and Lawrence Juma also failed terribly, with their crosses not reaching the target, while the midfield anchored by captain Victor Wanyama struggled to retain possession and control the contest.

“I must admit we are not ready yet,” Kimanzi continued, “We put up a good show in the first half but switched off in the second period, allowing Mozambique to dominate in the midfield. It was not the result I wanted from my boys.”

Asked on what next for his team, Kimanzi responded: “We must keep the focus, try to see the mistakes we committed, and rectify them.

“It was unfortunate we did not score again and as a coach, I must ask myself why couldn’t we score, what was the problem? I need to know because what worries me most is to play good football, create the chances and fail to score.”

Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa acknowledges that it was not good to lose at home, but maintained that it was not time yet to press the panic button.

“I don’t think we need to panic from this result,” Mwendwa told Goal. “You have to win some and lose some and that is what happened [on Sunday], we lost and that is all.

“I have a lot of confidence in this team, and my target remains, we must grace the finals of Afcon in Cameroon. There is no shortcut, we will make sure we reach the finals because when I look at the team which played, they need some small fine-tuning and all will be well.”

Gor Mahia CEO Omondi Aduda doesn't agree with Mwendwa, insisting the team will require much improvement before they face Egypt in their first match.

“Our defence has always been shaky, and we cannot head into a serious match against Egypt with such a display,” Aduda told Goal. “We should use the remaining three weeks to look where we did wrong in the two friendly matches, and by doing so, we will be able to sort out our big problems.”

Former Gor Mahia custodian Mike Kisaghi opined that Kenya will not make it to Cameroon unless their performances improve significantly.

“Don’t expect [Kenya] to reach another Afcon final with such a performance,” Kisaghi told Goal. “That was a shambolic display from the boys; the strikers looked lost, the midfield failed to control and pass the ball, the wingers were poor with their crosses, maybe there is a player we missed, but when I look around I don’t know who.”

Kenya’s last appearance at the 2019 Afcon finals held could largely be credited to Fifa's decision to expel Sierra Leone from their Group F of the qualifiers for alleged government interference.

Sierra Leone's exit sent Kenya to the top of the group, and they qualified in second place along with Ghana, taking their place in the expanded Afcon.

This time, however, they certainly need to improve if they're to make it back-to-back Afcons.