Harambee Stars are only 90 minutes away from qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations when they take on the Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia in a decisive Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group “F” return match at Moi International Sports Centre (MISWC) Kasarani on Sunday.
A lot is at stake for the national side who received a morale booster yesterday when Deputy President William Ruto visited the camp to urge them on and re-affirmed his initial pledge of Sh50 million if they beat Ethiopia and qualify for the continental showpiece for the first time in 14 years. He also gave the team a token of Sh 1 million, while Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko pledged Sh three million through his communication office, in case the team wins 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 last Wednesday. When Stars last featured at AFCON in 2004 in Tunisia, most of the current players in the squad had barely hit their teenage and would only be too eager to be among the generation that will join the folklore of the championships.
In a nutshell, it will be a crowning moments for them all if they will make their debut in the 2019 finals to be held in Cameroon. The result in Bahir Dar coupled with Sierra Leone’s banishment in the qualifying group means that Stars who top the group with four points need an outright win over Walya, who have registered a point thus far, to qualify either as the 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 beats Ethiopia and Ghana in their final matches, they will hit a ceiling of ten 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 Walya in their remaining matches. Having been done with the arithmetics, it is make or break for Stars with the team’s trainer Sebastien Migne angling to be the second expatriate coach to take Kenya to AFCON after German Eckard Krautzun who steered the team to the 1972 finals in Cameroon.
Stars have yet to lose a match since Mgne replaced local coach Stanely Okumbi and coupled with the fact that there is a new wave of optimism after Kenya stunned Ghana 1-0 in Nairobi last month, fans are pregnant with hopes that the team will revisit AFCON after a 15-year wait. Stars virtually have no reason not to roll over Ethiopia considering that they have a full squad that is inspired by Tottenham Hotspurs midfielder Victor Wanyama and Japna-based Micheal Olunga.
Patrick Matasi is a sure bet between the posts and will need a water-tight defence from the likes of Brian Mandela, Eric “Marcelo” Ouma and David “Cheche’Ochieng’ to shield him from Ethiopia attacks including Aschelew Tamene and Henok Adugno. As usual, Olunga should lead the striking force in partnership with Eric Johanna or Jesse Were all who will be trying to beat Ethiopia custodian Samson Assefa.