Kenya’s Harambee Stars will struggle to qualify for the AFCON 2021 after a narrow 2-1 loss to Comoros led to them dropping to third place in the group with three draws and a loss so far in the group.
Despite beginning their qualifying campaign in November 2019 with a creditable draw against Egypt in Alexandria, Kenya’s campaign has gotten off the rails after failing to beat “easier” competition in Togo and Comoros, and they will need to beat Egypt in Nairobi next year as well as Togo in Lome to have any chance of qualifying.
Where did it go so wrong for Kenya? Despite a solid AFCON 2019 that saw them compete against eventual winners Algeria and finalists Senegal, as well as a nail-biting historical first win against neighbours Tanzania, Kenya has failed to kick on since then.
The French coach Sebastian Migne was let go of his job after the tournament, and Francis Kimanzi failed to maintain the defensive standards set in the previous campaign.
It is not a coincidence that Kimanzi was fired just weeks after Football Kenya Federation chairman Nick Mwendwa retained his position after a long drawn campaign, with long time radio personality Jacob “Ghost” Mulee taking the hot seat.
Mulee is a coach with incredible qualifications and experience, after all, he guided the Harambee Stars to AFCON in 2004, and retains a great knowledge and insight in the game.
However, bringing in a coach who has been out of the game for so long in the middle of a campaign was a huge risk by the FKF bigwigs that looks to have blown up in their faces.
Kenyan fans on social media, twitter and Facebook especially, are very incensed at the hiring of the coach, and from the outside it is difficult to see what the footballers in the camp think.
Mulee has retained much of the squad that played under Kimanzi, especially the foreign based contingent, yet the return of goalkeeper Arnold Origi after five years in the cold has not worked out well, with the keeper looking shaky.
It must be said that COVID 19 has made our preparations as well as training difficult. Michael Olunga missed the double header against Comoros, and many of local based players have missed months of competitive action after football in the country was stopped due to the pandemic.
A conversation I had with online journalist Luke OJ (@lukeoj on twitter) was very demoralizing to me as a fan.
He bemoaned the lost opportunity to beat Comoros at home when we were against ten men, and also the poor performance of some of the players trusted by the technical bench.
In addition, he agreed with me that replacing the coach in the middle of the campaign was a bad judgment call by FKF bigwigs, that Harambee Stars paid for dearly.
Simply put, Harambee must beat Egypt at home and Togo away to have any chances. Without the fans in the stadium due to COVID restrictions it will be a tall order, but anything is possible in football.
Egypt are not as good as they used to be, and Togo is the weakest link in the group, so it is not all lost.
However, with an unpopular coach at the helm and lukewarm government support, and fans morale also at historical lows, it seems that kenya will have to watch the AFCON 2021 event in Cameroon from the sidelines.
A bitter pill to swallow and one that FKF leadership should take the largest share of the blame for.