Can Kenya build on Black Stars success?

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The Harambee Stars defeated Ghana for the first time in 15 years, but will it be a false dawn?


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Kenya coach Sebastien Migne sounded a note of caution after his Harambee Stars secured a first ever competitive victory over Ghana in Saturday’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

Nicolas Opoku’s 40th-minute own goal condemned the Black Stars to their first defeat by the East Africans since 2003, and also boosted Kenya’s prospects of reaching a first Afcon since 2004.

However, Migne wasn’t getting carried away.

“If you think today we beat Ghana and we are at the same level, I am very sorry, but we are very far away from the top level,” the Frenchman told journalists.

“We are very far away. I am not a liar and I am not happy at all.”

It was a surprisingly dour response from the 45-year-old, although in truth, the victory doesn’t completely gloss over some of the problems the Stars are facing at the moment.

Ahead of his first competitive match at the helm of the national side, Migne had to do without star man Victor Wanyama, who wasn’t released by Tottenham Hotspur as he looks to work his way back to full fitness.

Victor Wanyama, Tottenham

It was a decision that didn’t go down well with the coach, with the Spurs powerhouse the most high-profile of several omissions.

Gor Mahia duo Boniface Oluoch and George Odhiambo refused to honour their call-up and were duly cut from the squad, while Allan Wanga and McDonald Mariga also missed out.

Influential winger Ayub Timbe and Brian Mandela both had to sit out the Ghana clash due to suspension, leaving Migne shorn of a swathe of key players and with rifts within the squad to heal.

Their preparation was also less than ideal, a complaint Migne voiced vocally after the match, despite assurances from FKF President Nick Mwendwa that the Stars would get the federation’s full support.

In this context, Kenya were certainly up against it as they looked to take points from 2017 semi-finalists Ghana.

Michael Olunga of Kenya v Ghana defender.

Yet, the evidence of their triumph suggests that it was no fluke victory, it was no smash-and-grab, and it hinted at further success under Migne.

The Frenchman is a long-term planner, and upon his arrival at the helm, he insisted that he would bring a global vision to the post, attempting to build something concrete rather than rely on quick fixes.

"It's not only playing and qualifying for the AFCON, but my vision for Kenya is global," he told journalists, as per KweséESPN.

"We need to work together over a period of time to be able to achieve this and also dream of bigger competitions.”

To this end, the coach is justified in taking a hardline approach to the players who refused to honour the call-up to join the squad. It’s a decision that should set the tone for his tenure, and should dissuade others from taking invitations lightly.

Pattilah Omotto, Sebastien Migne, Whyvonne Isuza of Harambee Stars.

His decision looks to have gone down well with the fans too, with supporters backing the team whole-heartedly from the off in Saturday’s clash, even if Migne had axed some of their stars.

On the field, his side look to have developed an improved resiliency and mental strength under the Frenchman’s short time in charge.

When Joash Onyango was dismissed with half an hour to play, it was a moment that boosted the visiting Black Stars, who were already enjoying considerable dominance.

For Harambee Stars teams of the past, this kind of setback might have derailed a potential result and Kenya would have folded.

On this occasion, however, they knuckled down, rode out the storm, and escaped the Kasarani Stadium not just with a point, but with a famous win.

“I am very proud of my players,” Migne told journalists after the match.

Harambee Stars coach Sebastien Migne.

“I really like the spirit they showed despite what we went through in the four days we have been in camp. It was not easy to build such a strong spirit and they were really incredible.”

The coach also appears to understand the benefits both of blending experience and youth, and of meshing the local players with the foreign stars.

Instead of opting for Anthony Akumu and Johanna Omolo to replace Wanyama in midfield, he plumped for younger, less-heralded options, and also handed a start to Dennis Odhiambo, who was a revelation after a sub-par showing against Guinea-Bissau.

Youngsters such as the impressive Ismail Gonzalez and Ovella Ochieng were also given the nod ahead of more established players, supporting Migne’s insistence that he’s building for the future, while five of his starting XI are based in the local top flight.

As well as the improved mentality and discipline of the players, the home support, and the integration of young, local players with the best of Kenya’s foreign stars, Migne is also benefiting from timing.

Ismael Gonzalez of Kenya v Ghana.

They currently have several players breaking ground overseas; never has a Kenyan been as prominent in a major European league as Wanyama, while Michael Olunga netted a hat-trick in La Liga last term.

Jesse Were, absent against Ghana, is another impressing in a foreign league, and these players give Migne the kind of depth and talent that his predecessors haven’t always enjoyed.

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Similarly, Gor Mahia’s progress under Dylan Kerr—K’Ogalo were unfortunate not to reach the quarter-finals of the Caf Confederation Cup—ensure that a clutch of Migne’s key players are tasting a higher level of competition and refining their game under the English coach.

These two elements are boons for Migne, although he’ll be aware that managers in similar situations have failed with less, and Kenya’s double-header against Ethiopia next month represents a critical juncture for the Harambee Stars.

Positive results would put them on course for the Afcon, and Migne could point to tangible success for the East Africans. Failure, and the promise of this international break risks being forgotten.

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