DR Congo and Uganda for Kenya showdown

By alex wafula
Mar 22, 2021
  • DR Congo Leopards warm up before their training session in Nairobi. They face Harambee Stars in Machakos on Sunday. (Photo by Alex Wafula)

Having lost the first leg 1-0 at home in Lubumbashi last year, Democratic Republic of Congo are confident they can turn the tables against Kenya’s Harambee Stars in an international friendly on Sunday in Machakos.

The Leopards arrived on Monday night and had their first training session on Tuesday evening.

Despite missing some of his key players, coach Florent Ibenge is optimistic he will still field a strong team from a squad which has only three local-based players.

“It is a strong team and we have been preparing very well for this match. This is only our second session together but the way the players are working I am encouraged we will be in good shape for the match. It is a tough one but we have come here to win,” the tactician noted.

“It is not just a friendly match but a competitive game where we also want to test our strength against a strong Kenya team,” Ibenge who led the team to the last eight of the African Cup of Nations in Gabon noted.

He says the team will be using the friendly match as a build up for their World Cup and African Cup of Nations qualifiers in June and August.

For the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, Congo are in Group G with Congo Brazzaville, Zimbabwe and Liberia and will begin their campaign at home to their neighbors Congo Brazzaville on June 13.

In the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, DR Congo lead Group A with six points after back to back wins in their opening matches.

They will face Tunisia in home and away ties between August 28 and September 3 in crucial matches that might see them inch closer to a first World Cup appearance since 1974.

World Cup target

Midfielder Neskeens Kebano says it will be their target to get to the World Cup.

“The reason we come to Kenya is because we want to form that strong partnership that will see us become stronger as we look at the World Cup. It is a tough group and that is why we need to prepare well,” Kebano who turns out for Fulham in the English second division noted.

At the same time, Kenya’s opponents for the first friendly match on Thursday Uganda Cranes arrived on Tuesday morning.

They trained in Nairobi in the evening but are expected to have a feel of the match venue on Wednesday evening.

Milutin Sredojevic, the Uganda Cranes coach has assembled a squad of mostly local-based players in the side with an eye on preparing for the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers which begin in August.

Gor Mahia’s Godfrey Walusimbi and Tusker’s Shafik Batambuze have made the final squad of 18.

Meanwhile, Harambee Stars have been dealt a blow with three players withdrawing from the squad to concentrate on settling in at their new clubs.

Eric Ouma (Kolkheti Poti, Georgia), Eric Johannah (Vasalund IF, Sweden) and Ayub Timbe (Beijing Renhe, China) have all asked to be excluded.

Unattached Were called up

It has forced coach Stanley Okumbi to call up the unattached Paul Were having earlier been overlooked as he is club-hunting after leaving Greek side Archanaikos.

The rest of the foreign-based players have already joined the rest of the squad camping in Machakos.

England-based skipper Victor Wanyama as well as defenders David Ochieng and Brian Mandela arrived on Tuesday evening and will have their first session on Wednesday morning.

Players who already started training include Jesse Were and David Owino both of Zambian side Zesco United, Belgium-based Ayub Timbe, Michael Olunga who recently moved to China and Bulgarian based left back Aboud Omar.

Okumbi will be using the two friendly matches to prepare the team for the August 2019 AFCON qualifier away to Sierra Leone in Free Town.