Harambee Stars returned to the country Saturday afternoon after their impressive 1-1 draw against Egypt in their opening 2021 Group G Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying match on Thursday with captain Victor Wanyama saying the team is eyeing a return to the continental showpiece.
The team’s stay in Alexandria was marred by controversy with what is now becoming a familiar script of a pull and push between the Ministry of Sports and the Football Kenya Federation (FKF), but Wanyama says the team is concentrating on doing their job on the field and not the political gimmicks.
“Everyone in the team wants to be at Afcon again and compete and really that is what is pushing us to work hard. Our focus is not on the off pitch issues, but on the game itself and we gave it our all in Egypt hence the good result,” Wanyama said
The team now shifts focus to Togo on Monday, barely a day after arriving and the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder believes they have what it takes to grab the three points that would place them in a healthy position in Group G despite the challenges.
“We have to fight the same way we fought in Egypt. We are at an advantage since we are at home and will have our fans – I believe we can get a good result. We are definitely tired after the game and long flight back home, but we have to shake off all that and remain mentally focused ahead of the game.”
He also reserved special praises for newbies in the team – the likes of Gor Mahia’s Lawrence Juma and former Mathare United winger Cliff Nyakeya, who played a huge role in the game against Egypt, as well as several new faces in the team who were not part of the 2019 Afcon squad like Harun Shakava and Tusker’s Hilary Wandera amongst others.
“Players leave and others join the team and that is normal in football. Everyone who has come into the team has done well and I think we have a fantastic team that is capable of qualifying for Afcon again."
Head coach Francis Kimanzi has also echoed Wanyama’s comments and promised even a better performance against Togo on Monday.
“I am satisfied with the performance in Egypt – we had some good improvement and we can build from that. I have to congratulate the players who remained focused on the game rather than the circus involving the Ministry of Sports and Football Kenya Federation (FKF).
We gave a good account of ourselves despite the fact that we did not really have the sort of preparations I wanted them to have ahead of such a big game and even had to meet most of the players in Egypt."
Goalkeeper Patrick Matasi and winger Ayub Timbe are still doubtful for the game against Togo after picking injuries on Thursday, but Kimanzi is convinced he has enough firepower to tame Togo, who arrived in the country Saturday evening.
“The injuries are a big setback of course and we are still not sure if they will be available for the game against Togo. However, we will make use of the players that will be available for selection and I know we will play and fight better than we did in Egypt,” added the experienced tactician.
However, even as Kimanzi and his charges choose to focus on the pitch, the political bickering between FKF and the Ministry of Sports continues with federation president Nick Mwendwa revealing that the Ministry has once again refused to take care of expenses that will emanate from the team’s stay at the Safari Park Hotel where they are booked ahead of the game on Monday, and instead want them to stay at the Stadion Hotel at the Moi International Sports Center in Kasarani, which lacks facilities such as hot showers and TV sets.
“We will not get caught up with people who want us to fail. We cannot be arguing about bills whenever the team has a game. For the last four years, we have managed this team properly and we have not had any problems, but suddenly at the end of my first term when we have an election, there are people who want to politicize everything around the team.
They are saying we have lied in some of our documents - I know for a fact we haven’t and the records are there to be seen. The Ministry also had an officer on the ground and therefore it is very easy to confirm some of these things.
Football is a game of psychology nowadays – our opponents cannot stay at Safari Park, while we house our team in a substandard facility at Kasarani. From last year, we decided the team will not stay in any hotel that is not 5-star and we will stick to that,” he said.