It’s all or nothing for Harambee Stars

By nesta kizito
Aug 02, 2014
  • Harambee Stars players at a training session at the Safaricom Kasarani Stadium.(Photo by Shutterspeed)

  • Lesotho national team training at Ruaraka.(Photo by Shutterspeed)

Harambee Stars coach Adel Amrouche has been crooning all week about how his absence from the Kenyan technical bench will have no bearing on the outcome of the crucial Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Lesotho on Sunday at the Nyayo National Stadium.

After all has been said and done, it’s now upon the players to put their money where their mouth is by to either vindicating or indicting the cantankerous Belgian coach who, despite having recently been slapped with a one-year ban from all Caf activities by the continental football body, has still been calling the shots with trademark bravado.

“The mood in the camp is great and the players are in high spirit. With or without me what is important is for to progress to the next round and all the players know this,” Amrouche said on Friday on the team’s final day of training ahead of the match.

As if in a rejoinder to Amrouche, Seephephe Matete, coach of the Lesotho team, which arrived in Nairobi on Friday morning, said his team is not in the country on a sight-seeing excursion.

'“We know a draw of any kind will be enough to see us through but I am looking at doing a double against Kenya,” said Matete.

Touchline ban

Away from all the talk, it’s Harambee Stars who go into the match the poorer side. First, there is the one goal deficit that they must cancel out and supersede to have a shouting chance at next year’s edition of the biennial tournament.

Secondly, the team has to contend with the absence of Amrouche from the touchline with the two assistant coaches James Nandwa and Ken Odhiambo temporarily holding brief for the Belgian.

Nandwa’s astuteness as a coach is beyond question but the former Kenya international’s more balanced mien is in sharp from Amrouche’s authoritarianism.

Another source of concern for Stars is the unavailability of former captain Dennis Oliech and first coach goalkeeper Arnold Origi who both missed the first leg encounter two weeks ago in Maseru.

In Origi’s absence, the vastly experienced Wilson Obungu has staked his claim and flourished between the sticks ahead of Jerim Onyango and Wycliffe Kasaya.

In contrast, the Oliech-less strike force has been a different kettle of fish.

Granted, Oliech himself has lost quite some pace in recent times and performed below par the last time he donned the national colours – a belaboured 1-0 win over Comoros mid-May in Nairobi.

Firing blanks

But even with Oliech not at his best, his presumed replacements – Allan Wanga, Jacob Keli and Edwin Lavatsa – have all been firing blanks.

The bluntness of the team’s strike force has been laid bare in the last four competitive matches in which Kenya has only scored two goals. On both occasions, 1-0 against Comoros in Nairobi and 1-1 against the same opponents away in Moroni, the goal scoring burden was shouldered by midfield players Johanna Omollo and Ayub Timbe.

The rest of the Kenyan midfield, comprising skipper Victor Wanyama, Francis Kahata, Mohammed Jamal and MacDonald Mariga, appear solid on paper but have been bereft of creativity on the actual field of play.

The defensive partnership of David Owino, Aboud Omar, David Ochieng, Lawrence Olum could atleast pass for Stars’ strongest point and the four players should start automatically on Sunday barring any last minute changes.

On Sunday it will be all or nothing for Stars in the match that kicks off at 4pm at Nyayo Stadium. Victory will catapult Kenya to Group C where they will meet Angola, Burkina Faso and Gabon with tickets to Morocco at stake for the top two finishers.