Harambee Stars are only 90 minutes away from qualifying to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) when they take on the Walya Ibex of Ethiopia in a decisive Group “F” return match at Kasarani Stadium on Sunday.
Stars put themselves in a vantage position of qualifying for the biannual tournament after settling for an invaluable barren draw with Ethiopia at a sold-out Bahir Dar Stadium on Wednesday.
When Stars last featured at Afcon in 2004 in Tunisia, most of the current players in the squad had barely hit their teenage years and would only be too eager to be among the generation that will join the folklore of the championships.
The result in Bahir Dar coupled with Sierra Leone’s banishment in the qualifying group means Stars, who top the group with four points, need an outright win over Ethiopia, who have registered a point thus far, to qualify either as group winners or runners-up.
For Stars, the arithmetic is simple: beat Ethiopia to be guaranteed a first or second qualifying place in the finals regardless of the outcome of their last qualifying match against Ghana in Accra later this year.
Assuming Kenya beat Ethiopia and Ghana in their final matches, they will hit a ceiling of 10 points to be all but assured of qualifying.
Ghana have three points by virtue of having picked a single win in their 5-0 thumping of Ethiopia at home in their opening qualifying game and can attain a maximum of nine points if they overcome Stars and Ethiopia in their remaining matches.
It is therefore make or break for Stars with the team’s coach Sebastien Migne angling to be the second expatriate coach to take Kenya to Afcon after German Eckard Krautzun who steered them to the 1972 finals in Cameroon.
Stars have played seven matches since Migne replaced Belgian Paul Put, winning four, drawing one and losing two—both of them to India—and there is a new wave of optimism after Kenya stunned Ghana 1-0 in Nairobi last month that a return to Africa’s big stage after a 15-year wait will be realised.
With Wednesday’s match having been played at a packed 60,000-seater stadium, Kenya wants to ‘avenge’ that treatment and the Ministry of Sports has scrapped gate charges at Kasarani on Sunday, allowing fans to gain free access.