Stars on the brink of elusive Nations Cup finals

874

By David Onjili

Harambee Stars restored Kenya’s pride and honour, bringing joy to the success-starved local football fraternity with their thumping of Ethiopia 3-0 at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani on October 14.

This was despite the not-so-good preparations. First, they could not afford to be in camp in good time for first leg in Addis where they forced a barren draw and the return leg at Kasarani that gave us the elusive result. Second, head coach, Frenchman Sebastian Migne had gone for three straight months without pay heading into the fixture.

Even though intervention by the Deputy President William Ruto, who on behalf of the government settled all outstanding bills and gave the team Sh25m with a promise of a further Sh50m if they beat Ethiopia, this actions drew mixed reactions from the sport’s fraternity. 

The fact that the same government had fallen back on their 2013 elections campaign pledges to among others construct football stadia across the country could not be forgotten. It incesed a majority of the game’s diehard fans who viewed it as tokenism instead of laying down proper foundation to improve the sport’s standards in the country.

Government waived all entrance fees for the game on match day and rallied fans to attend in their numbers. Nairobi Governor, Mr Mbuvi Mike Sonko had also donated 150 buses that ferried fans to the stadium and the fans never disappointed. As early as 9 am, queues that measured more than half a Kilometer could be seen as fans streamed into the stadium.

The only dark side is that Football Kenya Federation (FKF), in its typical fashion failed to seize the moment and sell replica jerseys, which a majority of fans wished to purchase.

With the victory, Kenya is a foot into qualifying for the first ever Africa Nations Cup finals in 14 years, the last appearance being courtesy of that memorable wonder strike by legendary striker Dennis Oliech that afforded the nation a slot into the finals in Tunisia in 2004.

The Sunday game was a date with destiny as the fate for qualification was squarely on the boys and the technical team to deliver. National team skipper Victor Wanyama had in a recorded video clip urged fans to come rally behind the team and they had heeded the call.

With Deputy President William Ruto, the federation president Nick Mwendwa and a packed Kasarani on the terraces, the boys turned on the heat. Dependable Japan based striker Michael Olunga sent the 60,000 plus fans into delirium when he curled into the back of the net a shot from outside the area to open the goal fest in the 22nd minute.

This was followed by another quick goal after some neat work down the left flank by Abud Omar who exchanged the ball with Erick Ouma, the latter delivering a pin point cross into the danger area for Eric Johanna to slot in with a thunderous left foot shot, giving the hosts a commanding two goal lead going into half time. The spectators were rocking as the Mexican wave took over amid chants of Ole Ole Ole…

Not to be left out in the party was Captain Victor Wanyama who slotted in a second-half penalty after Eric Johanna was fouled in the penalty area and sealed a three all win. This victory propelled Kenya seven points and top of the group having played 4 games same as Ethiopia who had 4 points.

Kenya’s opponents in the group, Ghana and Sierra Leon’s match did not kick off after Fifa suspended the latter for government interference. If the status quo prevails over Sierra Leon, then Kenya is in the finals in Cameroon early next year. Should the ban be lifted, however, and Ghana and Sierra Leone’s game is played, all Kenya will need is a draw in their two remaining matches.

Harambee Stars has done the country proud despite the neglect of the sport and more so the reneging by government on its promise to prioritise the sport especially building stadia across the country to tap talent early in the youth.

Football, like most other sports, is a universal and uniting language, going by the joy and unity that was displayed in the country after the October 14 win. If Brand Kenya or the tourism ministry ever needed ambassadors, then Harambee Stars, indeed all Kenya’s sportsmen are.