Let the game begin

BY DAVID OnJILI

The route for African teams’ qualification for the 2020 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has been revealed. on Tuesday 21 January. The draw January 21 at The Nile Ritz-Carlton in Cairo, Egypt, saw 14 teams that had won the first round of qualifiers join the 26 highest ranked nations on the continent drawn in ten groups of four each. 

Some mouthwatering clashes are in the cards as, for instance, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire find themselves in the same group meaning that one of these African soccer giants won’t be in Qatar.

This second round of fixtures will begin in October 2020, the mini-league format will witness the teams in each group facing one another and the group winners progressing to the third and final round. The final round will feature five two legged fixtures of home and away with the winners advancing to the finals as Africa’s representatives in Qatar.

From the above table, football lovers will be treated to some amazing matches. Group F, for example, has Egypt and Gabon or simply put, Mohamed Salah going against Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, two of the Continent’s brightest stars in Europe going head to head. Tunisia and Zambia is also another great game to watch out for in Group B. It will be interesting to watch whether Zambia can upset Tunisia who have been performing poorly lately.

Some of the groups appear straightforward on paper. Ghana in Group G should make it to the next round, their main challenger should be South Africa but even they have not been performing well. Group I, pitting Morocco and Guinea will be an exciting proposition for the neutrals. The draw has set-up some very exciting fixtures.

National soccer team has been slotted in Group E alongside Mali, Uganda and Rwanda. This group has very interesting fixtures that date back to history. Mali on paper are the favorites, ranked 56 by FIOFA worldwide, but they have never qualified for the World Cup just like the rest of the teams in the group. They were the second runners up in both the 2012 and 2013 tournaments of the African Cup of Nations.

Rwanda are the minnows of the group, this is despite the fact that they boast of Meddie Kagere and Jacques Tuyisenge; two of the regions’ most prolific strikers. Despite that, they are likely  to finish last in the group.

Uganda versus Kenya definitely will not just be a football contest, it will be a battle that started in the era of the Gossage Cup in the 1920s. Matches between the two nations have always been a deep rooted rivalry, Uganda must be credited with producing technically superior players compared to Kenya. Khalid Aucho, Taddeo Lwanga and Emmanuel Okwi will definitely be the players to watch out for. Their latest meeting was a 1-1 draw at Kasarani in Nairobi, a game where Uganda again underscored their technical superiority.

Harambee Stars under coach Francis Kimanzi have a huge task. In a recent newspaper interview, Coach Kimanzi sated… “It is a very balanced group and we can manage. We will do everything we can to ensure the team is prepared and ready to battle.” A very optimistic approach from Kimanzi and surely the team needs proper preparation.

Kenyan sports is usually associated with neglect of sportsmen by the government until the last minute. It is my hope that the government can avail funds in good time for the team. Kenya has a generation of talented boys led by captain Victor Wanyama, Michael Olunga, Eric Johanna and Francis Kahata. On paper, these boys are as good if not better than their opponents. What is needed is funds to facilitate their proper preparation.

Success on the pitch for Harambee Stars will be a great marketing tool not just for our football but the nation as a whole. The talent is there. All that the players need is funds for preparation. If Stars can win all their home games and get a draw or two away, then qualification into the third and final round of the 2020 FIFA World Cup will be possible. Let the games begin  

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