The national men’s under-23 team, Emerging Stars, have date with destiny as they kick off their African qualifying campaign for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games against Mauritius at the Moi International Sports Centre (MISC) Kasarani today.
The fixture is the first leg of the campaign and they are expected to face Mauritius in the return match in Port Louis on Sunday with the winner on aggregate taking on either Sudan or Seychelles in the second round.
A third round, which will determine which team graces the Africa U23 Cup of Nations, is also in line.
Soon after concluding conducting the last training session ahead of the match, Kenya’s coach Francis Kimanzi said that in as much as Emerging Stars will be enjoying home ground advantage they do not expect things to be any easier.
“We have to respect Mauritius since football dynamics have changed. All the same, we have no reason not to navigate through the second round since we have an all-round good squad which has prepared well,” he said.
He added: “I’m glad that we recorded a full house since we first pitched camp. Our focus now is to make sure that we are fully ready for the match and hopefully, the boys will do the country proud with a first-leg advantage.”
The tactician said it has not been easy to pick the starting eleven considering the several options in the squad.
“It was quite challenging because we had quality players in each and every position, but alongside my technical bench as well as the senior national team coach Migene (Sebastien) we selected players who I believe are up to the task,”said Kimanzi.
The team is dotted with experienced players among them defender Michael Kibwage of KCB, striker Boniface Mukhekhe of Nakumatt, and Sofapaka front-runner Pistone Mutamba, who also turns out for the senior team Harambee Stars.
Ticket prices for the match have been set at Sh100 (Regular) and Sh500 (VIP) and will be sold on match day at the match venue.
The final U23 AFCON tournament, set to be held in Egypt in November 2019, will act as a qualifier for the 2020 Summer Olympics, with the best three teams gaining automatic qualification.
Meanwhile, former Olympic Games football gold medalists Cameroon find themselves among minnows this week when the qualifiers begin.
The central African country host Chad in Yaounde Friday with the second leg of the first round tie set for N’Djamena next Tuesday.
Cameroon and Chad are far apart when it comes to football achievements with the former qualifying seven times for the World Cup, a record for an African country.
Chad are among the weakest football nations on the continent, never making an international impact at national team or club levels.
A Cameroon team including Samuel Eto’o won the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games gold medal match against Spain on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
However, poor results in the past two African qualifying competitions have prevented the central Africans being among 13 countries given byes to the second round.
In a 2012 London Olympics qualifier, Cameroon lost on penalties to Tanzania, and were ousted by Sierra Leone on away goals in a 2016 Rio de Janeiro eliminator.
With the Chad fixtures taking place during an international window, Cameroon can pick young foreign-based professionals as the qualifiers are an under-23 competition.
Ghana, bronze medalists at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, are another country who must compete in the first round, facing fellow west Africans Togo in Kumasi and Lome.
Like Cameroon, the fall from grace of Ghana can be traced to early exits from the last two qualifying competitions.
They were shocked by Sudan in a 2012 eliminator and eliminated by Congo Brazzaville after a penalty shootout in the last edition.
Guinea were among the African contenders at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but have not qualified since.