Kim upbeat despite Stars landing tricky qualifier group

Harambee Stars assistant coach Francis Kimanzi has welcomed the draw for 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers released by Confederation of African Football (CAF) following the draw in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday night.

The Dutch trained tactician who assisted Frenchman Sebastian Migne in securing Kenya’s Afcon appearance this year, confident of successfully maneuvering through Group G to nail a second successive show in the Afcon finals slated for Cameroon in two years.

Local football enthusiasts, however, have a different opinion owing to the fact that Comoros who are the minnows in the group, always been a hard nut to crack for Stars and we have never beaten Egypt. Stars have been pooled together with Egypt, Comoros Island and Togo.

“I cannot complain about the qualifying group we have landed. We were always going to get a top seeded team but we had another big team in the last qualifiers. Ghana was the top nation in our pool but we beat them at home and managed to qualify,” Kimanzi who doubles up as Mathare United’s head coach told Wikendi Sport.

He added: “Going by the display witnessed at the Afcon finals in Cairo, no team can be dismissed. If you focus on Egypt and Togo in our group and forget that Kenya and Comoros can also hurt someone then you will be greatly mistaken,” he said.

“Some of these previously small nations football-wise have developed large pools of players who are quietly doing their business in European leagues. They get sufficient exposure in their clubs and can really hurt any team when they gather in the national teams. Look at Madagascar, Benin and Burundi. They were very competitive and a lot more of such countries are coming up.”

Kimanzi also hinted at retaining the bulk of players who featured for Kenya in the Afcon finals to spearhead the country’s quest for a stub at another Afcon final appearance. He however, cautioned the players to be on top of their game to retain their positions in the national team.

“For the sake of continuity and development of the team we would love to keep most of the players from Afcon. They got plenty of experience and exposure playing in Egypt and that is something you don’t just want to discard but to harness and build an even stronger team. But it boils down to the individual players form,” he said.

He added: “You may have gone to Egypt but cannot expect to preserve your position in the team if your form is on a decline. They have to work harder and keep improving because there are others pushing the doors. And every year there are those who break through and deserve chances. Those will always be considered and if the experienced players sit on their laurels then they will be relegated to pave way for players in form.”

Kimanzi said Stars were fortunate that the qualifiers would not take long to start: “It is an opportunity for us to make corrections to mistakes we made in Egypt and to employ what we learnt. I’m sure that we can make it to Cameroon given the support we had in the previous campaign.”

Kenya fielded the 5th youngest squad in the Afcon and hopes that most of the players will step up and anchor the team in subsequent editions.                      -JAMES MAGAYI

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