Harambee Stars, Kenya’s men’s football team, will be taking part in AFCON 2019, the national football competition for the 24 best African teams, from June 19th in Egypt. This is a rare occurrence, make no bones about it. Harambee stars have only taken part in six out of thirty-one (31) AFCONs since independence, winning one game only, a dead rubber match in 2004 against Burkina Faso.
It is safe to say, football is not what Kenya is good at. Kenya is ranked 108 in the world, 25th in Africa, and is undoubtedly one of the weakest teams participating in AFCON 2019. Set in a group with Senegal, Algeria and Tanzania, only the optimistic fans will expect anything more than two defeats against Algeria and Senegal, and one win against Tanzania.
Here is a piece to educate casual fans who will be wearing their Kenyan flags and supporting the team this June on the players comprising the squad, the style of play and other interesting trivia.
Harambee Stars preparations for AFCON 2019
Kenya’s team has spent close to two weeks in a camp in France, the home country of the national team coach, Sebastian Migne. There, they have trained intensively, while participating in two friendlies, a 1-0 win over Madagascar, and a 1-1 draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both these teams are participating in AFCON, and DRC is actually quite highly rated. Preparations have also included visits from CS for sports, Amina Mohamed. They have been tranquil and morale looks high, bonuses and allowances look to have been paid, etc, etc. The players have been well taken care of.
Introducing the coach
Sebastian Migne is a Frenchman who has previously managed the Congo national team coach as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo under 20 side. Pragmatic, opinionated and confident, he has done well with the limited resources in terms of playing talent, qualifying the team to the AFCON 2019 from a group containing Ghana, Sierra Leone and neighbours Ethiopia.
Most famous win: Kenya 1-0 Ghana
Kenya’s style of play
Kenya under Monsieur Migne doesn’t play football for the purists. A defensive, cautious and rigid 4-4-2/4-5-1 is likely to be the line-up preferred in Egypt. The optimists might compare it to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, but it seems more like West Brom under Tony Pulis. This is not a criticism. Migne is only making lemonade out of the lemons that Kenyan football has given him.
This cautious football saw Kenya concede only one goal in qualifying, a one-nil loss to Ghana’s black stars in Accra with qualifying already assured.
The likely first 11
The defence is likely to have Patrick Matasi in goal. He has already saved two penalties in the friendlies, and while he sometimes makes silly mistakes, he is Kenya’s most experienced keeper. Ahead of him, might be Philemon Otieno at right back, Abud Omar at left back, while the centre backs, Kenya’s most stacked position in terms of talent, might be Joash Onyango and Musa Mohammed.
Three of those defenders have turned out for Gor Mahia, hence familiarity and team chemistry at the back will be a key strength for Harambee.
In midfield, Kenya’s captain, Victor Wanyama, who plays at the highest level of European football, (Tottenham Hotspur) will be the defensive midfielder (number 6). He is likely to play next to Dennis Odhiambo.
Ahead of them in the number ten position is likely to be Johanna Omondi. An experienced player for Harambee stars, he will do a lot of running, dropping back to form a solid three-man midfield, and on the ball rushing forward to score and assist goals.
On the wings will be Francis Kahata and probably Ayub Timbe. Francis Kahata, Gor Mahia’s most skilled midfielder, is the creative spark for Harambee stars. He is likely to be the one taking most of the corners and free kicks for the side. Ayub Timbe on the left wing will be more of a traditional winger, attacking the flank with the ball, and tucking in to assist his fullback without it. He is a joy to watch, look at the clip below at his dribbling skills and assist to Michael Olunga in the DRC friendly.
The striker is going to be Michael Olunga. Olunga is the best striker Kenya has produced since Dennis Oliech and on his shoulders will be the hopes of an entire nation. He plays his football in Japan and has also played in Spain and China.
Migne is likely to rely on Paul Were as his plan b for the team when things aren’t going well. Speedy, left-footed and quite skilled, Paul Were is similar in playing style and physique to Aaron Lennon/Shaun Wright Phillips or Theo Walcott.
Other subs are likely to be Eric Johanna, John Avire as well as Masud Juma, who is the only other striker in the team that mostly comprises centre backs and defensive midfielders.
Controversy in selecting Kenya’s 23
The team selected by Sebastian Migne was very controversial. Some of the names that missed the cut include Zambia based striker Jesse Were, KPL second top scorer Allan Wanga and Gor Mahia’s Nick Kipkirui. It is difficult to see how the forwards who are in the team such as John Avire and Masoud Juma are better than these three.
In addition, Teddy Akumu, An experienced number six who made the provisional 26 also missed out in the final squad. Many Kenyans online have complained that it seems some players always make the squad no matter their form and fitness, based on their perceived closeness to the bigwigs at Football Kenya Federation. Patience with the squad is quite low, despite Harambee stars arguably having already achieved just by making the tournament, and being one of the lowest ranked sides in AFCON.
It is no exaggeration to state that Sebastian Migne’s choices, style of play and lack of finesse when dealing with the media means his relations with Kenyans is at a low. If Harambee stars go to AFCON 2019 and perform dismally, a real possibility given the lack of goals in the side and overreliance on defence and solidity, I think his position could become very perilous.
Kenya’s opponents at AFCON 2019
Kenya is placed in a group with Algeria, Senegal and Tanzania.
|Kenya vs Algeria||Sunday, 23rd June, 11 pm East African Time|
|Kenya vs Tanzania||Thursday, 27th June, 11 pm East African Time|
|Kenya vs Senegal||Monday, 1st July, 10 pm East African Time|
The first game we will play at AFCON 2019 will be against the Algerians, led by Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez. Algeria is one of the best teams on the continent, and also boasts players such as Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani and Adiene Guediora. Algeria is the second best team in this group.
Kenya will then face neighbours Tanzania in a must-win encounter. Twitter will likely go into meltdown on this day. Tanzania is coached by Nigerian coach, and has no pedigree in the continental stage, just like Kenya. This might be a positive game between the two weakest sides in the group. It is a must watch.
On the final game of the group, Kenya takes on Senegal, the lions of Taranga. Possibly the best team in Africa at the moment, Senegal will be a stiff challenge for our boys. We will need all the defensive organization and focus to get a positive result from this match. Players to watch out for are Sadio Mane, Idrissa Gana, Ismaila Sarr and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly.
Kenya needs to get points against the Algerians and Tanzania to have a chance to progress to the next round. It will be oh so difficult. Remember, Kenya has always exited AFCON at the group stage. We will need to hold Algeria to at least a draw, beat Tanzania and limit our losses against Senegal. Our defence will need to be at their best. If we can sneak into the last 16, we might face Egypt who is tournament hosts. There is where our adventure is likely to end.
KOT to follow
During the duration of the tournament, these are the Twitter handles which will inform, educate and entertain with Kenyan content. Follow these football experts to learn more about AFCON 2019, African football and Harambee Stars
|Bonface Osano||A football analyst who has worked with among others, soka afrika and futaa.com. He is a must follow.|
|Carol Radull.||Radio presenter of a popular show on kiss 100, she is a football fan with massive influence online and offline|
|Kevin Teya||A football pundit who breathes football. Few know the local game more than he does.|
|Zax Oguda.||Never a dull moment on his TL. Also has a book out on Kenyan football, “Away from Victory” that looks at football in Kenya and some of the issues that have blighted the game including politics. A must read.|
|Idah Waringa||Ntv sports news reporter and a big football fan. She should have the latest news on afcon 2019 on her TL.|
|Carolle Kamanda||Bamba sports football and other sports news presenter|
|Elijah Ouko.||Bamba sports football and other sports news presenter|