This Saturday Kenya’s Under 23 coach James Nandwa takes charge of Harambee Stars proper as they head off to Uganda to play the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup. Kenya have fallen at the group stage at the last two editions and this year they will not be helped by the fact they are pooled with Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan (debuting at the competition).
With the tournament not being FIFA recognised there were no Europe based players called up to the squad, selected separately from the one that will attempt to qualify for CHAN. That also meant that there were several regulars from local clubs that were exempted from going to the Challenge Cup. However, having said that, there is is no lack of experience in the team. The likes of Sofapaka goalie Duncan Ochieng and Ingwe striker Allan Wanga having multiple CECAFA campaigns behind them. With them are a host of young and young-ish players on the cusp of breaking into consideration for nation, many with the odd cap here and there. Indeed as far as I cc tell only 4 of the 25 man squad can truly be considered new to th Harambee Stars set up.
The challenge in front of this team, to reverse a trend of showing up to Senior Challenge cup with alot of bravado then underwhelming, will not be made easier by being stuck in the same group with hosts and most successful team in the competition, Uganda and the region’s sole representatives at next year’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Ethiopia. The 4th team in th group are South Sudan, who this blogger expects to be whipping boys. Though Uganda has a superior recent head to head record, and Ethiopia are in a pick form, I still reckon the familiarity of Harambee Stars with these opponents means they do have as real chance of winning both games, or at the very least the outcomes will be down to much smaller margins than might be expected from the 3 team’s recent histories. Should they get into the quarter finals then really anything can happen. But There’s a very tough grou to get out of first.
Was watching the opening match of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, between Equitorial Guinea and Libya, Saturday night. The commentators were harping on about how the Guineans wouldn’t have got into the cup of nations any other way, and how CAF, apparently, have a policy of using hosting rights for the biggest football event in Africa as a kind of stimulus to focus energy for much needed Infrastructure development and so on. On a continent where alijenga barabara (he built roads) is enough for a president to overcome multiple corruption and political crises and have a positive legacy, we could safely say that kind of thing is a big deal. As much as that particular game wasn’t much to write anywhere about, the commentators got me thinking, why not have The East African Community Members join forces to host the Africa Cup of Nations? Okay, maybe 5 (6 if you assume Southern Sudan’s membership application being approved by then) is too many cohosts for a 16 team event. However if you think about it, a Kenya-Uganda-Tanzania joint bid for the Cup of Nations would go a long way to achieving the type of economic integration, that regional policy wonks are always singing about. On a football level, getting into the Cup of Nations via qualification has proven too much for the 3 teams in question more often than not. I’m not even certain Tanzania have been to the cup of Nations yet. Most importantly though is that, I cannot remember a CECAFA nation, never mind an East African one hosting the Africa Cup of Nations. Basically its high time the gravy train came through this region. So how would an East Africa hosted AFCON work? Between the three core East African Countries we’ve got at least 3 recently built (or renovated) football stadiums, at least 5 international (by classification) airports, and at least one decent national airline. Kenya already has a strong reputation as a tourist destination, whilst Tanzania and Uganda could use the exposure, so most of the key boxes are ticked in that respect. Bringing the tournament to the region could force open some of the bottlenecks that still exist over movement of goods and labour. If you not going to issue an East Africa Visa for any other reason, do it for the fans who will have to follow their teams across these borders during the tournament. That and several other initiatives, like a common currency, Equal V.A.T and so forth. Some of those international trunk roads that seem permanently stuck in ‘the design stage’ might actually get built. Most importantly, is this could be a big revenue generator for local industries, if they play their cards right, as well as a very potent way of pushing the advantages of doing things together rather than on our own. All in all I can’t see a reason not to go for an East Africa hosted Africa Cup of Nations. What do you think?
So Football Kenya went out and in their first act brought back a certain football messiah (coach) called Francis Kimanzi and he didn’t deliver. Ouch, just Ouch! Kenya’s first major test on his watch and we get dumped out of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup, at the first hurdle, with just 3 points and 2 goals scored in 3 games. Granted it was a really tough group and the squad had hardly been together 48 hrs when they had to step out in Dar es Salaam for their first match. Nonetheless it still galls this blogger just how poor (impotent going forward and lax in defence) a team led by Kenya’s most qualified coach was for the better part of the tournament. It is way too early at this stage to call for heads to roll, but this showing shows that Kimanzi’s honeymoon is over before its even began and Kenya go into their Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier v. Togo with needing to do wonders to close the gap between the expectations he has set for Harambee Stars and the reality on the ground. So what does this blogger reckon is most urgent? In the attack we seemed determined to go the way of the long ball. Hoofing the ball forward and assuming the striker who got on the end of it (be it Mugalia, Kimani, Waruru, or Ochieng) would single handedly manufacture a goal. Never mind they often were outnumbered by defenders and pushed into a far corner of the field and totally isolated from their own team mates. That and the occasional lapse in in concentration on the defence’s part will likely be high on Kimanzi’s list. Having said that let me restate that it is way too early to be calling for heads to roll, but it would be nice for things to start looking up.
Francis Kimanzi’s first major task back in charge of Harambee Stars is the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in Tanzania from the end of November. Kenya have been drawn in Group C of the 12 team competition alongside Sudan, Eritrea, and guest team, Malawi. Kenya have suffered bad times in the reign and the continent’s oldest football tournament since Kimanzi was last in charge. Things came to a head last year when, poor defending on the field and constant rows over unpaid wages off it, saw Kenya bundled out of the tournament at the group stages. Kenya now return to the scene of the crime, backed by a unified governing body for the first time since 2004 and led by probably the most qualified Kenyan football coach in the business, looking to set things straight and reassert their authority as a regional powerhouse. Kimanzi’s star, on the other hand has continued to rise. After earning a UEFA coaching badge in Holland, he came back to steer Sofapaka into the fourth round of the CAF Confederations Cup (the best showing by a Kenyan club since Tusker FC in 1997) and into the final of the 2011 FKL Cup. Though the circumstances are not the most ideal, indeed with the KPL season hardly over before the CECAFA tourney kicks off, Kenyan footbal fans are crying out for some good football and it is imperative for Kimanzi to set th ball rolling in Tanzania.