13 November 2018

Mauritius/Kenya: Kenyan Juniors Face Mauritius in Quest for 2020 Olympics Ticket

Mauritius under-23 coach Sekoor Boodhun is wary of their Kenyan counterparts' threat as the two countries face-off Wednesday in the first round first leg of the 2019 Africa U23 Cup of Nations qualifiers at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.

The Island nation will host the reverse fixture on Sunday with the aggregate winner meeting either Seychelles or Sudan in the second round slated for March next year.

The third round is set for June targeting seven countries to join hosts Egypt in the final tournament due to be held in November next year.

The top three teams in the eight-team competition will qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics men's football tourney in Japan.

Boodhun admits not knowing his opponents well even though this is the first ever meeting between the two sides in an U-23 competition and the second in an age-restricted clash after Kenya U20, then led by coach John Kamau, whipped Mauritius U20 4-0 at the Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) Under-20 championships in December 2013.

"We are ready to play and get a good result to keep our qualification chances on track," Boodhun told Nation Sport at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport after a four-hour flight from Port Louis.

"The problem is that the return leg is too soon as we travel back on Thursday but the boys are ready to manage the situation," he decried.

The Francis Kimanzi-led Kenyan youngsters, nicknamed Emerging Stars, will heavily rely on the experience of USA-based defender Joseph "Crouch" Okumu and Sweden-based Ovella Ochieng' in the 4pm kick off.

Others are Alywn Tera of FC Saburtalo in Georgia, striker Jonah Ayunga and midfielder Henry Ochieng who turn out for Sutton United and Braintree Town respectively in the English fifth tier.

"We've huge potential in camp, in terms of quality, we can't debate about because from the selection criteria, we tried to bring in players who can compete for places in the senior team," said Kimanzi, who is also the Mathare United coach.

Defender Okumu, who plays for Real Monarchs reserve team in the United States, will captain the juniors. "The mood and the team spirit is high in camp. Everybody is ready for the battle," Okumu said.

"A comfortable win in the first leg will be very important for us to ease pressure and a morale booster for the second leg. We've to capitalise on the home advantage," added the former Chemelil Sugar and Free State Stars centre-half.

Tickets have been priced at Sh500 and Sh100 for VIP and terraces respectively.

Thirteen nations, including defending champions Nigeria, were given a bye to the second round leaving 30 to battle it out in the opening round.

Kimanzi is likely to start Ulinzi Stars goalkeeper Timothy Odhiambo in goal with a four-man backline comprising of Joseph Okumu, Michael Kibwage with David Owino and Yusuf Mainge providing ammunition from the left and right back positions. Ibrahim Shambi of Ulinzi Stars and Sofapaka's Teddy Osok could combine in the midfield as Ovella Ochieng and James Mazembe play out wide. Chris Onyango and Pistone Mutamba will most likely lead the front line.

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