Nairobi — After years of call ups and near misses, Western Stima shot stopper Samuel 'Abawa' Odhiambo finally made his debut for the national team Harambee Stars at the age of 35, realizing a lifelong dream that he has harbored since he started playing football two and a half decades ago.
Odhiambo donned the national team jersey for the first time ever during Kenya's 2019 CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup opener against Tanzania in Kampala on Sunday, keeping a clean sheet as Stars won 1-0.
"I feel so happy and this is some kind of joy that I cannot explain," Odhiambo, one of the few goal scoring keepers in the Kenyan Premier League told Capital Sport after the game as he rubbed his eyes fighting back tears.
"I have always dreamed of this moment, to represent my country. It has finally come when I am 35 years and for me, this is the best day of my career. I feel happy and proud and this is the true reflection of the saying 'patience pays'. I am over the moon," added the former Tusker FC keeper.
It is a story that mirrors that of West Ham keeper David Martin who made his debut for his boyhood club at the age of 33 and cried on the pitch after he kept a clean sheet in a shock 1-0 win over Chelsea on November 30.
Odhiambo was a late call up to the Stars squad after Kariobangi Sharks' Brian Bwire picked up a hip injury. He joined up Ulinzi Stars' Timothy Odhiambo who had been hot on form and earned the October KPL player of the month award.
This was his third CECAFA tournament, having previously been called up to the team while at Tusker but never played an active role. His last call up to the national team at any point was 10 years ago under German Antoine Hey.
He wasn't sure he would be the starter when the team landed in Kampala.
"I wasn't sure because I was called up late. But for me, I was ready for anything. My mind was set that if I was called in to start, I would be ready. Even if I was to be on the bench, I was still mentally ready. When I was told I would start, I was overjoyed," the Stima man noted.
Odhiambo moved to Stima at the beginning of the 2016 season after spending time with Ushuru in the National Super League and Chemelil Sugar after leaving Tusker FC at the end of the 2013 season.
And now, after his debut which was crowned by a clean sheet, the Stima man has put on notice Stars' regulars including Faruk Shikhalo and Patrick Matasi that he does not want to let go of the number one role anytime soon.
"To be honest, I want to continue being the number one. I want to keep working hard and being disciplined because I also want to play for the senior team during the AFCON qualifiers next year. I will do my best and if the coaches see me best to start, I will be happy," he added.
And a piece of advice to budding footballers and Kenyans in general?
"Never give up. No matter how long it takes, as long as you keep working hard, maintain your discipline and do your best, you will always get your reward."