It’s a battle for Nations Cup

Published on 20/06/2009

By Gilbert Wandera

Kenya and Mozambique will both be fighting for a ticket to next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Angola when they clash at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani this afternoon.

With two rounds of matches gone, both teams have no hope of picking the sole ticket to the World Cup and must now concentrate on the more achievable objective — the Nations Cup finals.

Kenya are at the bottom of Group two after losses to Tunisia at home on March 28 and to Nigeria on June 7.

Mozambique are not far off the radar as they have picked just a single point after an impressive barren draw against Nigeria in Maputo and a 2-0 loss to Tunisia early this month.

While the top teams from each of the five groups automatically qualify for the World Cup, the Nations Cup finals will admit the top three from each group.

In this regard, both Kenya and Mozambique start on an equal footing with the winner expected to be among the 16 teams that will line-up in Angola next year for Africa’s top competition.

Wounded side

Harambee Stars go into today’s match a very wounded side. Two losses in a row would even discourage the best of teams or can act as a motivation to grab the victory that has remained elusive.

It will therefore be a very difficult match for the home-boys with many fans having written them off on the back of two poor outings.

The 2-1 home loss to Tunisia in March was particularly painful coming on the heels of an impressive winning streak that saw Stars finish an impressive second in their group to make it to the last stage of the qualifiers.

Another home loss will be unacceptable and will hugely dent coach Antoine Hey’s credentials.

Ball possesion

Despite, the 3-0 humiliating loss to Nigeria, Stars put up an incredible performance enjoying huge ball possession but failed to put away the chances which came their way.

It is this performance that should inspire Stars against their opponents. Senior players in the team believe they can make it to Angola next year as they have put behind them the two losses.

“I want to assure Kenyans we will qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations finals next year. We just need their support,” said midfielder Austin Makacha in an interview this week.

“It is all behind us now and we are looking forward to bag all three points against Mozambique at home to put us on the road to Angola,” he said of the 3-0 loss to Nigeria.

He blamed the loss to Nigeria on the team’s inability to utilize their chances but is satisfied about the team’s attacking ability.

Makacha paid tribute to the current squad saying they are capable of going places. Parma mid-fielder Macdonald Mariga says it is not all over for Stars insisting there are still many matches to play.

“We cannot give up, the competition has just started. Our opponents are beatable and we can take advantage of that,” he said.

He attributed the team’s recent poor form to bad luck saying had they scored from their many chances against Nigeria, the match would have turned around.

Team captain Musa Otieno said, ” I said this would be a long journey and we are still traveling but we must now begin to win games to make it to Angola,”.

It will take more than optimism for Kenya to win against their equally credible opponents.

First the defence has to stop leaking in goals. In just two matches, they have allowed in five goals a very scaring statistic. Granted the new defence line of Musa Otieno, Pascal Ochieng and Julius Owino is still trying to cope with the demanding World Cup fixtures. They have had two matches to do that. Now is the time to close the backline.

President Obama

While the backline has been letting in goals, the striking force has been simply blunt. One goal in two matches is hardly an inspiring statistic for any team serious of playing at the biggest international arena.

Top striker Denis Oliech must rekindle the magic that saw home fans chant his name alongside American President Barack Obama as he scored at will last year.

Oliech missed many chances against Nigeria and will be under pressure to perform today.

The AJ Auxerre striker maybe paired with Taiwo Atieno. Atieno is yet to be tested at this level and many fans will want to see what he can offer.

The midfield is perhaps the team’s mainstay and Parma’s Mariga, Robert Mambo, Makacha and Patrick Oboya are all expected to start and give a good account of themselves.

Today’s match is the fifth time Kenya are playing Mozambique. All their past outings have been Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Kenya enjoys better a head to head advantage having won two of their previous encounters on home soil. Mozambique has won only once at home and drew the other. The first encounter between the two sides was in 1990, which Mozambique won 2-1. A year later Kenya won 1-0 at home. The third encounter in Maputo in 1993 ended in a barren draw.

Kenya registered a huge 4-1 win in Nairobi in the fourth meeting also in 1993.

This statistic gives Kenya a slight advantage but that is where it ends. Mozambique has proved over the years to be one of the emerging teams in Africa and their barren draw against Nigeria in March is proof of what they are capable of.

The Mambas

They are currently ranked 87th in the Fifa rankings 15 places ahead of Kenya who are at position 102.

The Mambas have moved up 11 positions in the rankings while Kenya have gone down 16 places.

With a largely home based squad, the Mamba’s who are bringing in thousands of fans to cheer them up will be a hard nut to crack.

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