Kenya: Harambee Stars End 15-Year Wait to Play in Afcon

Photo: Pixabay
(File photo).
29 December 2019

Kenya started the year at number 105 in Fifa rankings, and the team is poised to end the year at number 106.

The ending year has been eventful for the national football team Harambee Stars, but the team's qualification for Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament after close to a decade and a half in the cold is arguably the team's biggest achievement this year.

In June, Harambee Stars kicked off their campaign in 2019 Afcon in Egypt with a 2-0 loss to eventual champions Algeria courtesy of first-half strikes by Baghdad Bounedjah and Riyad Mahrez. They laboured to defeat neighbours Tanzania 3-2 in their next match but were humbled 3-0 by eventual champions Senegal. Two loses and a win marked Kenya's performance at Afcon after 15 years out.

Kenya's journey to 2019 Afcon however came with its fair share of developments. For a start, David "Cheche" Ochieng and Jesse Were did not make the provisional squad that went to camp in France while Anthony Akumu, Christopher Mbamba, Clifton Miheso and Brian Mandela, who sustained a knee injury in France, did not make the final 23-man squad for the tournament.

With nearly Sh300 million to play with, Harambee Stars could afford to camp in France and play a friendly in Madrid prior to Afcon but an investigation by Nation Sport revealed FKF paid OneGoal Pro agency more than Sh106 million to prepare Harambee Stars camp in France.

ACCOUNTABILITY

OneGoalPro is owned by one Joe Kamga, who doubles up as then Stars coach Sebastien Migne's agent, an irregularity by all means. It was also revealed Football Kenya Federation (FKF) ferried joyriders to Afcon, mainly FKF staff and branch officials and the Ministry of Sport has since then played hard ball with FKF regarding funding of the national team, demanding full accountability.

However, Afcon opened the doors for Kenya's defender Joseph Okumu, the youngster moving to Swedish side top-tier side IF Elfsborg from Real Monarchs in the US after a stellar performance in Egypt. Drafted into the starting squad after the experienced Brian Mandela was ruled out of the tournament, Okumu seized the opportunity and left a mark.

Youngster Eric Ouma also recently completed a transfer to AIK, another Swedish top-tier team. AIK scouts watched Ouma at Afcon and recruited him from lower-tier league team Vasalund.

Of all the post-Afcon theatrics, the exit of FKF CEO Robert Muthomi over his involvement in the aborted transfer of Sofapaka striker John Avire to Egyptian side Tanta SC shook Kenyan football. The powerful forward impressed with Harambee Stars at Afcon, and Tanta moved with speed to sign him up without involving his parent club Sofapaka who in turn protested.

Sofapaka produced a letter showing that Muthomi used his position as the federation's CEO to influence the move. Muthomi was suspended, with Barry Otieno, who was the Communication Officer at the federation, taking over on interim basis.

Migne was sacked after Tanzania bundled Kenya out of qualifiers for African Nations Championships (Chan) tournament. Kenya suffered an embarrassing 4-1 post-match penalties loss to Tanzania at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, in August. His sacking was always in the pipeline, especially after he publicly declared that FKF was struggling to pay him and would therefore not attempt to terminate his contract.

"Football Kenya Federation and Harambee Stars head coach Sébastien Migné have agreed to terminate the coach's contract on mutual consent. Consequently, FKF and Migné have agreed on a settlement for the coach, over a period of time. The federation wishes to thank coach Migné for his exemplary work and high standard of professionalism during his tenure, which culminated in the country qualifying for 2019 Afcon for the first time in 15 years," FKF statement signed by acting CEO Barry Otieno read in part.

KIMANZI RETURNS

In came Francis Kimanzi, who was Migne's assistant. He was appointed alongside KCB tactician Zedekiah "Zico" Otieno who serves as the assistant coach.

Kimanzi, who guided Kenya to its highest ever Fifa ranking in 2009 at position 68, lauded Migne, saying he would continue with good work started by the Frenchman.

"We laid a good foundation under Migne. Qualifying for Afcon was a good thing and it's the foundation we will work on now going forward. The challenge now is to ensure we qualify for 2021 Afcon," he said during his unveiling in August.

He made a raft of changes in the squad in his first match in charge in a friendly against Uganda Cranes on September 8 at Kasarani. Jesse Were was recalled and Kakamega Homeboyz midfielder Moses Mudavadi handed a rare call-up. Bandari duo of Atariza Meja and Collins Agade were also in the team, a clear testament that Kimanzi was ready to try out a few new players and build a team of his own. Emmanuel Okwi gave Cranes and early lead but Kenneth Muguna equalised for Stars minutes after the breather, the game ending 1-1.

In November, Harambee Stars drew 1-1 with Egypt away in Alexandria and against Togo at Kasarani in 2021 Afcon qualifiers.

Kimanzi's first real test was defending the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup that Kenya won in 2017 under Paul Put. He failed miserably. Using a relatively second-string squad for the tournament held in Kampala this month, Harambee Stars won all its group stage matches against Tanzania, Zanzibar and Sudan and set up a date against minnows Eritrea at the semi-final stage.

What everyone thought would be an easy sail for Kenya turned out to be nightmare as they were dominated by Eritrea and eventually lost 4-1. Kenya beat Tanzania in the third place play-off but what dominated headlines was Kimanzi's rant over what he termed as 'Cecafa's disorganisation'.

"The tournament is not recognised by Fifa and hence not played at the right period under the Fifa calendar and its very difficult for us to get players from clubs. We are also limited in terms of the number of players we are allowed to bring and the overall organisation has been pathetic. This is just a Jua Kali tournament," he lamented.

An angry Cecafa Secretary-General Nicholas Musonye hit back, calling Kimanzi an incompetent and undisciplined coach.

Kenya's next assignment is the 2022 World Cup qualifiers which kick off in March as well as 2021 Afcon qualifiers from August against Comoros, Togo and Egypt.

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