Kenya Under-23 men national football team coach Francis Kimanzi has urged his charges to stay focused after qualifying for the second round of the 2019 Africa Under-23 Cup of Nations/2020 Olympic Games qualifiers following an emphatic 8-1 aggregate score in the first round against Mauritius.
The Emerging Stars thrashed the Islanders 5-0 in the first leg on November 14 at home before completing the job at the Anjalay Stadium last Sunday with a 3-1 win.
Kenya will face the winner between Seychelles and Sudan, who settled for a 1-1 draw in the first leg, in the second round slated for March next year. The two teams lock horns in the return leg on Tuesday in Khartoum.
Sudan, coached by former Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards coach Croatian Zdravko Logarusic, need a win of any kind or a barren draw in Khartoum to set a date with Kenya.
The aggregate winner of the second round qualifier plays either Nigeria or Libya in the third and final round scheduled for June. The seven aggregate winners of the third round will join hosts Egypt at the U23 Cup of Nations finals in November next year.
Top three teams at the eight-team championship will represent the continent at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Kimanzi, speaking at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport on Monday night after jetting back into the country, said that it's encouraging to start the qualifiers with a massive win.
"We still have a long way to go, each match in the qualifiers is critical, it doesn't matter the quality of the opponent," said the Mathare United tactician.
"We are talking about youth football where youngsters want to explore their talent and get the opportunity of rising to the senior team, we've to keep our philosophy intact and improve on the weaknesses," he added whilst giving an injury update on left back David "Messi" Owino who was hauled off after just 22 minutes on Sunday and replaced by James Mazembe who scored the third goal.
"The doctors will give us full report after conducting the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), up to now there's nothing serious from the X-rays but since it's a football injury, you've to go deeper and find out whether there's damage or not," he concluded.
Skipper Joseph "Crouch" Okumu said they are determined to qualify for the continental showpiece and emulate the senior team Harambee Stars who are on the brink of returning to the Africa Cup of Nations after a 15-year absence.
"Being in the Afcon itself is a motivation because of exposure, we appreciate the work coach Kimanzi and national team coach Migne (Sebastien) have done so far by helping us get past the first round," the USA-based defender said.
Georgia-based midfielder Alywn Tera, Sony Sugar midfielder Tobias Otieno and his Mathare United counterpart Ahmed Abdallah are some of the players who made their debut for the national junior team in the return leg.