“We beat you guys”. “How did you play yesterday?” “When is your next game?”
These are typical conversation openers for many a Kenyan football fan when they meet up, in a bar, bus stop, lift, library, market, mall, workplace, wherever.
And invariably it is not about any of Kenya’s top league sides but the giants of English Premier League football. You see, the league is considered the most popular in the world, and Kenyan fans, perhaps wanting to show they are part of the international fad, or are mere passengers in the Premier League bandwagon or they really love the beautiful game, spend huge chunks of their time watching, reading and commenting on the competition.
Whenever I am asked which team I support — like I should be fan of European club football — I respond: “Crusaders”. I quizzical look leaves me more than obliged to explain.
Crusaders, formerly Canterbury Crusaders are a New Zealand professional rugby team that competes in the Super Rugby competition. They have won nine Super Rugby trophies, the first in 1998, the last last season.
Crusaders have produced many All Blacks the likes of Justin Marshall, Reuben Thorne, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Pat Lam, Todd Blackadder, Norm Maxwell, Aoron Mauger, Ali Williams, Sonny Bill Williams, Rico Gear, Kieran Read, Israel Dagg … I could go on and on, but I am writing about the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Uefa Europa League final (Chelsea v Arsenal) and Uefa Champions League final (Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur) were held on Wednesday and Saturday respectively. The finals had nine Africans namely Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria) of Arsenal, Joel Matip (Cameroon), Naby Keita (Guinea), Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Sadio Mane (Senegal) from Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur’s Serge Aurier (Cote d’Ivoire) and Victor Wanyama (Kenya).
All are bound for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations except for Aubameyang.
Reaching a final of a major competition gives loads of confidence to the players. It also shows they have been playing at their highest level to reach this stage.
Imagine these players heading to Egypt at the level they are at. They would potentially have a major impact on the campaigns of their respective nations as long as they stay healthy.
I would not be worried by their level of fatigue. These are young, professional men footballers at the height of their physical power. As long as they can keep their mental focus — know that they had a big examination in Europe last week, but face an important second sitting in Africa that they must pass — they will feature prominently in Egypt.
At least that is what I hope to see Wanyama, who was not given a kick in the Madrid final, doing for Harambee Stars in his first ever appearance at the Cup of Nations.