Harambee Stars: Kimanzi proves a point despite Uganda draw

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FKF/Okaka.
The former Mathare United coach handed six new players rare starts against the Cranes to launch a new start for the national team

It is on rare occasions that a new coach, either at club or national team level, can have the confidence to field six debutants in a serious match.

A new coach will always want to start his reign with a bang, and won't tinker too much with his squad by fielding untested players.

Despite being his first match as the new Harambee Stars coach, Francis Kimanzi proved many doubters wrong after he fielded six new players for the side as they battled to a 1-1 draw against neighbours Uganda in the East African derby played on Sunday.

Despite Kenya struggling in the first half, where Uganda grabbed a deserved goal from captain Emmanuel Okwi, the former Mathare United coach was unfazed as, in the second half, he opted to bring on three more new faces and overlooked the regulars on the bench.

LAWRENCE JUMA of Gor Mahia v Aigle Noir of Burundi.

It was in the second half where Kenya bounced back and put up a superb display to earn the leveler courtesy of Kenneth Muguna. They almost won the meeting after stand-in captain Michael Olunga smashed the woodwork twice, in a space of five minutes.

In his first match since replacing Frenchman Sebastien Migne, Kimanzi, who is handling Stars’ for the third stint, handed first starts to Collins Agade, (Bandari FC), Lawrence Juma (Gor Mahia) and Samuel Olwande (Kariobangi Sharks), while Johnstone Omurwa (Wazito FC), Nicholas Meja (Bandari), and Boniface Muchiri (Tusker FC) came on in the second half.

In fact, Muchiri was unlucky not to have won the friendly for Kenya as his powerful effort was parried away by custodian Charles Lukwago in the 93rd minute, with Uganda looking unable to deal with Kenya's threats in the closing stages.

Whereas Kimanzi was deprived of his regular starters for the build-up – captain Victor Wanyama, Johanna Omollo, Joseph Okumu, and Ismael Gonzalez for various reasons – the performance of the new players caught the eyes of many Kenyans and also proved the country has a bright future.

FKF President Nick Mwendwa and Kenya U-23.

Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa was the first person to laud coach Kimanzi for his boldness to give new players a chance against the Cranes.

“It was a good start to a new chapter for Harambee Stars,” Mwendwa told Goal. “To field six new players in the starting eleven and still have three new subs [who did not feature] and have never played for team A tells a new story for Kenyan football.”

The 43-year-old Kimanzi was left impressed with how the new players put up a good show, saying he will continue to use them wherever duty calls.

“The good thing about the friendly is we have some belief in the team and some players surprised me, like Lawrence [Juma], you could see the zeal he had despite it being his first time,” Kimanzi told Goal. “[Juma] wanted to show he can play in the midfield and be effective as well.

Kimanzi added, "I am also impressed with what I saw from Johnstone [Omurwa] in the second half of the game. The new players are excellent, just a few things are needed before you can see their true colours.

Boniface Muchiri of Tusker.

“If they manage to learn how to absorb pressure in the next two games we will play before Egypt, then we will have enough depth to do better as well against Egypt. They just have to cope with the intensity which comes at this level of the game.”

Gor Mahia CEO Omondi Aduda also supported the decision taken by Kimanzi to give the new players a chance to show Kenyans what they can offer.

“We have always kept trust with professional players, forgetting we have good players at home who can give us good results,” Aduda told Goal. “I am not against the use of foreign players but we must also try to use what we have at home.

“I think [Kimanzi] has proved to many we have talent in Kenya and all we need now is to support the players and the team,” Aduda continued. “The new players were amazing, and to manage to come from a goal down and draw against Uganda was not an easy task, we must now start building from there, and most probably we will have a good team which one day can take us to the World Cup finals.”

Kimanzi insists the backbone of Kenyan football lies with local players, and he will not hesitate to field them for future assignments.

Michael Olunga of Kenya and Harambee STars v Uganda.

“I will continue to use the local-based players and see how far we can go with them,” Kimanzi continued. “They have something they want to offer the country and we must give them the chance to prove us wrong.

“If you want to build a strong national team you always have to start somewhere, and must always have trust with the squad you have back home."

Mwendwa maintained that the federation will continue to support Kimanzi and his technical bench as Kenya shape up for the upcoming 2021 Afcon qualifying matches, where they are pooled alongside Egypt, Togo and the Comoros Islands.

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“Next we play Libya away in Morocco, a different kind of opposition, and then Mozambique at home before our opening Afcon qualifier against the Pharaohs in Cairo,” Mwendwa continued. “I think after the two remaining matches, we will have played our part and the team should be good to go.

"We want perfect preparations for Kimanzi, and I am sure he will have picked his best squad after the friendly matches.”

A draw in the first game for coach Kimanzi was not a bad result, and with some regular players in the squad edging closer to the end of their international careers, it is time Kenyans supported the move to start building a new team for the future.

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