Following Friday night’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations draw the stage is set for a potentially bruising battle for Harambee Stars who are in Group “C” alongside Senegal, Tanzania and Algeria.
Senegal’s Lions of Teranga appear to be Kenya’s toughest opponents in that group, while Algeria are somewhat weakened opponents if their recent international performance is anything to go by.
Tanzania are on paper the weakest team in the group.
And the reaction from Kenyans was all positive.
“To be the best you have to compete with the best. Looking forward to the challenge ahead,” Harambee Stars lead striker Michael Olunga, who currently plies his trade in Japan with Kashiwa Reysol, said in a Facebook post.
Before the Afcon draw Kenya coach Sebastien Migne had said that he had no preferred team to meet as there was a lot of time to prepare for whichever opponents Kenya would be pitted against at the group stage.
“We have two months to stand back and prepare for them. We played Ghana, which is a big team by all standards, and we beat them yet nobody gave us a chance,” he said.
Jacob “Ghost” Mulee, who was Kenya’s coach at the 2004 Afcon finals in Tunisia said: “In my opinion, Harambee Stars are going to be a hard nut to crack."
“When I look at the tactical defending I have seen them apply lately, it is going to be hard for any team to beat them.”
Former Kenya international Musa Otieno said: “We have one team from north and one from west Africa so our prospects are complicated, but we can still find a way out. It all depends with how we prepare.”
Incidentally, the last time Kenya graced the continental scene, they were placed in Group “B” that also contained Senegal together with Mali and Burkina Faso.
Kenya won only once in the three group games, a 3-0 win over Burkina Faso in their last group match courtesy of goals from legendary striker Dennis Oliech, current Sofapaka coach John Baraza and Emmanuel Ake who was then based in Seychelles.
Of the three Kenyan group stage opponents, only Algeria have won the Afcon title, once in 1990.
In their 14 appearances, Senegal is yet to win an Afcon title. Their best performance was in 2002 when they lost in the final to a well-oiled Cameroonian side on post-match penalties.
Tanzania are minnows at this stage having only qualified once before, in 1980.
“Senegal is the favourite team to proceed as group winners. They have an extraordinary pool of players with European experience but Algeria could offer stiff competition,” said Senegalese legend El Hadji Diouf during the draw.
Kenya’s first match will be against Algeria on June 23 in Cairo, before their take on Tanzania in their second match four days later.
Harambee Stars will finish their group assignments against Senegal on July 1.
All Group “C” matches will be staged at the 30,000-seater 30 June Stadium in Cairo.
The draw was conducted on Friday evening at the Giza plateau under the gaze of the Sphinx and Pyramids of Egypt.
Group A: Egypt, DR Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Group B: Nigeria, Guinea, Madagascar, Burundi
Group C: Senegal, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania
Group D: Morocco, Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa, Namibia
Group E: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Angola
Group F: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Guinea Bissau
Group “A” — Cairo Stadium; Group “B” — Alexandria Stadium; Group “C” — 30 June Stadium (Cairo); Group “D” — Al Salam Stadium (Cairo); Group “E” — Suez Stadium; Group “F” — Ismailia Stadium
Group “C” fixtures:
June 23 Senegal v Tanzania (7pm); Algeria v Kenya (9pm)
June 27 Senegal v Algeria (7pm); Kenya v Tanzania (10pm)
July 1 Kenya v Senegal (9pm): Tanzania v Algeria (Al Salam Stadium, 9pm)