Okumbi: 2017 AFCON qualification failure behind us

By alex wafula
Jun 07, 2017
  • Stanley Okumbi, the Harambee Stars coach (Photo by Shutterspeed)

  • Ayub Timbe is one of the players included in the final squad. (Photo by Shutterspeed)

  • Harambee Stars Victor Wanyama dribbles past a colleague during a training session. (Photo by Shutterspeed)

Stanley Okumbi, the Harambee Stars coach says the team has put behind its back the woeful qualification campaign for the 2017 African Cup of Nations and is ready to right the wrongs with a shot at the 2019 edition.

The Kenyans finished third in their group, with Guinea Bissau qualifying. They lost back to back against the West Africans home and away and the two results put paid to their chances of qualification.

Harambee Stars start their 2019 journey away this Saturday when they take on the Lone Stars in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

“Of course, it was disappointing but that is now in the past. We learnt the lessons and we now look forward to this new qualifier. We are focused on getting to the Cup of Nations,” the coach told Sports News Arena after Wednesday afternoon’s session at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos.

He adds; “When we play away from home our strategy is to ensure at least we get a point then at home we get the maximum points. It is a long journey but we have to be tough.”

Okumbi says they will not take Sierra Leone lightly especially looking at how they performed in the last qualifier. They finished second on five points, just one shy of eventual winners of Ivory Coast having lost only one match.

Sierra Leone problems

But heading into this Saturday’s fixture, Sierra Leone have a barrel of their own problems.

Up until Wednesday, the team had only 10 players in camp, all foreign based as they have not had an active domestic league over the last four years.

But Okumbi says he will not be distracted by that and will only focus on sharpening his team’s tactical and technical prowess ahead of the Saturday game.

The coach named his 20-man squad for the West African trip and missing are three key players due to injury.

Midfielder Johannah Omollo and left back Aboud Omar picked up injuries while on club duty last weekend while striker Jesse Were picked up a knock during training on Tuesday.

In place of striker Were, Okumbi has held faith in Kenyan Premier League top scorer Stephen Waruru who has scored seven goals in nine matches.

The Ulinzi Stars goal poacher last donned the national team jersey in June 2013 during the World Cup qualifier against Nigeria in Nairobi.

“It is a huge challenge for me to get this opportunity to travel with the team and I am determined to make the most of it. I have been in good form for my club and the challenge is now to replicate that form for country,” Waruru said.

Also earning an opportunity to fight for a maiden cup is SoNy Sugar forward Boniface Muchiri and his Kariobangi Sharks counterpart Massoud Juma.

Tusker’s Jackson Macharia who has been impressive for the brewers over the past few games has also made the cut.

Wendo gets the nod

Gor Mahia midfield workhorse Ernest Wendo’s hard work at club and in national team training has also seen him earn a berth in the squad.

Okumbi has retained most of the core squad which has taken him on a run of 10 unbeaten matches and he beams in confidence the streak will continue.

China based forward Michael Olunga who turns out for Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng was the only player yet to arrive in camp by Wednesday evening.

He was however confirmed to be on his way and will be part of the Thursday morning session before the team departs for Sierra Leone in the evening.

The team will be led into the battlefield by skipper Victor Wanyama who hopes to translate his club form at Tottenham Hotspur in England to the national team.

“It has been a great season for me of course and I am proud of what I have achieved with Spurs. Now the focus is on the AFCON qualifiers and personally I am very determined to see that we qualify and this first game is going to be very crucial for us,” the midfielder told Sports News Arena.

Harambee Stars squad

Goalkeepers: Boniface Oluoch, Patrick Matasi Defenders: Simon Mbugua, Joseph Okumu, Musa Mohammed, David Ochieng, David Owino, Brian Mandela, Eric Ouma.

Midfielders: Victor Wanyama, Ernest Wendo Jackson Macharia, Anthony Akumu, Samuel Onyango, Ayub Timbe, Eric Johanna.

Strikers: Massoud Juma, Michael Olunga, Stephen Waruru, Boniface Muchiri.