Kenyan football journalist Alfred Jones gives Dean Ammi an insight into the Kenya team and what we can expect from Algeria’s first opponents of the tournament.
The Kenyan national football team will be making their 6th appearance at the Africa Cup Of Nations in June after a 15 year absence from the continent’s biggest showpiece with their last appearance being in 2004 in Tunisia where they performed dismally only managing to register one win against Burkina Faso and lost to Mali and Senegal, who they will be playing against again in this year’s edition. There are a lot of things that have changed ever since. Jacob Mulee is no longer the coach and in his place we have Frenchman Sebastien Migne a student of AFCON specialist or as many call him the “white witch” Claude Leroy. There are many foreign based players in the squad unlike 2004 where Mike Okoth was the only notable professional in the squad and this time round Kenya are finally having a training camp in France and will play a friendly with AFCON bound Madagascar unlike 2004 where they camped in Kenya and played friendlies against Kenyan Premier League sides as part of their preparations for AFCON, so the Harambee Stars that will be in Egypt will be a completely different side and they pose a major threat and here is why.
Kenya’s greatest strengths lie in their defence, for quite a number of years this department had proved to be Kenya’s greatest undoing until Sebastien Migne arrived, under the tutelage of the Frenchman, Kenya qualified for AFCON with the best defensive record among all the qualifying teams. Kenya’s defense department has depth and anyone called upon to play will be equal to the task, the Black Stars Of Ghana can attest to this as they were unable to penetrate the Kenyan battalion of no-nonsense defenders. With Ethiopian based Saint George goalkeeper in goal, the defense will be marshaled by Gor Mahia’s duo of hard tackling defender Joash Onyango and Philemon Otieno, who were instrumental in Gor Mahia’s Confederation Cup campaign this season, South African based Maritzburg United defender Brian Mandela, Zambian based duo of Nkana FC defender Musa Muhammed and Zesco’s David Owino who is nicknamed ‘Calabar’ after his heroic display against Nigeria when he completely outplayed former Chelsea striker Victor Moses, he is also a CAF Champions League semi-finalist with Zesco. Romania’s Sepsi defender Aboud Omar and Swedish Vasalund IF defender Eric Ouma complete the defense, the duo also offer offensive options for Kenya.
Just like the defense the midfield is a key component of how Kenya will play. Most recently Kenya have adopted the slow buildup from the back and they play very many short passes before hitting you on the counter and depending on the type of play Sebastien Migne decides to go with he has all the arsenal to unleash in the midfield. Kenya’s captain Victor Wanyama is a key figure in the Kenyan midfield, he brings in the physic, experience and good distribution of the ball but he is not the only player to watch, the unsung hero in Kenya’s qualification is Sofapaka versatile midfielder Dennis Odhiambo, in Kenya we say 10% of the earth is covered with water and the remaining 90% by Dennis for he is almost everywhere in him and Zesco’s Anthony Akumu we have workhorses. The Spanish flair is very much in the Kenyan game and UD Las Palmas midfielder Ismael Gonzales will bring this to the fold his combination with Belgian based Cercle Brugge midfielder and Gor Mahia’s Francis Kahata who is arguably Kenya’s best locally-based player and has attracted interest from Algerian side CS Constantine is one to behold. If you think that the goals will come from the attackers then you will be surprised, in the midfield Kenya has free scoring midfielders when you don’t expect it Eric Johanna and Whyvonne Isuzza will bang in the goals from long range shots.
3. Individual brilliance
When a tie is locked and there is no sign of breakthrough look out for China based Beijing Renhe winger Ayub Timbe, AFC Leopards winger Paul Were and Kenya’s danger man upfront Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol forward Micheal Olunga to make something out of nothing, they are the game changers. The pacy wingers and quick dribblers will cut through your defense, they will come at you non-stop and before you know it the damage will already be done. So any defender marking the duo have their work cut out.
Kenya go into AFCON with no natural right back, Philemon Otieno who is a midfielder has been converted into a right-back has been covering the right side of defense and has been doing a great job so far but the only formidable opposition he has met his Newcastle’s Christian Atsu but in June he will be up against English Premier League top scorer Sadio Mane who found the back of the net 22 times and Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez a two-time English Premier League winner and without a proper backup plan the defense will be porous, he will be overrun and the attackers may cause a rampage.
2. Attacking department
No matter how well you defend and control the midfield, Kenya’s progress will rely on their ability to bang in the goals. In Kenya’s recently announced provisional squad only Micheal Olunga is a proven goalscorer, in his absence through injury or suspension Kenya will have to rely on Libya based Masoud Juma who has had barely any playtime in the past 7 months or 33-year-old veteran Allan Wanga who is the current Kenyan Premier League top scorer and Zimbabwean born former Swedish U17 Christopher Mbamba who plays for Swedish third tier side IK Oddevold.
Players to watch
1. David Owino ‘Calabar’
The Zesco defender as hard a torid time this season and barely took part in Kenya’s qualifying campaign due to injury but in June we will have a fully fit Calabar the fighter and a leader per excellence marshalling Kenya’s defense.
2. Victor Wanyama
The Kenyan captaian has been a key figure in Tottenham’s UEFA Champions League title charge and will be the man to watch in the midfield.
3. Ayub Timbe
The pacey winger was a sensation in the Chinese league and will be a hit in Egypt and for Kenya to progress he must bring his A-game to the fold.
4. Michael Olunga
Since 2004 no Kenyan striker has been able to replicate Dennis Oliech prowess until Micheal Olunga arrived to the scene. The lanky striker who is a former Djurgaden IF of Sweden and Girona of Spain striker carries the hope of Kenya. The left footed player who scored two goals in the qualifying round is an out and out striker, is good with both feet , a threat with aerial balls and a great finisher with the ball will ultimately be the man to watch in Egypt.
A big thanks to Alfred for giving this great insight into the Kenyan team to DZ Football.