By: DAVID KWALIMWA
The 2-1 aggregate loss to Cape Verde Islands in the preliminary phase of the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier cast a bleak future for Harambee Stars.
The Kenyan national team had managed a slim 1-0 win over the Blue Sharks in Nairobi on Friday but lost 2-0 in the rematch played in Praia on Tuesday night to bow out of the race for Russia 2018.
The result also consigned Kenya to the periphery of football for the next several years.
The loss to Rui Aguas’s charges was however overshadowed by confusion over travel arrangements and sketchy preparations from Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and the government, a situation that elicited a public outcry. In fact, it was seen as the cause of the team’s elimination from the World Cup race.
Granted, it was always going to be a tough call to expect Bobby Williamson’s men to qualify for the Fifa World Cup. This is because Kenya — a highly talented and respected sporting nation — is incidentally a footballing dwarf in Africa going by statistics from both Fifa and Caf rankings. In addition, the team has never qualified for any international competition in more than a decade.
The manner in which they lost the return match, however, having been in transit for more than 22 hours only to arrive three hours before kick-off for the high-stakes clash, is what annoyed the fans.
Nonetheless, the narrow loss to Cape Verde, who are ranked fourth in Africa, may be seen as a good effort by a 38th-ranked Kenya, despite coming on the backdrop of a particularly underperforming year for Stars.
In this period, the team has been eliminated in the opening stages of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games qualifiers, 2015 African Games qualifiers, 2016 African Nations Championships (Chan) and now the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers by Lesotho, Egypt, Ethiopia and Cape Verde, respectively.
Stars have also made a lacklustre start to the qualification campaign of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals that are set for Gabon by losing to Zambia at home and drawing away to the Republic of Congo, and now look likely to stretch their absence from this competition to 13 long years.
Kenya now faces a long wait of up to half a decade to stand a chance of competing in a World Cup qualifier. By: that time, the majority of players who featured against the Atlantic Ocean islanders on Tuesday night are likely to be well past their prime. Worse, there exists no specific youth programme in the country that is expected to churn out replacements for the likes of team captain Victor Wanyama, McDonald Mariga and Dennis Oliech when they hang up their boots.
The biggest hope of a return to continental football for Harambee Stars will be the 2018 Chan, an event Kenya has been awarded the hosting rights. However, the government and FKF are yet to show any serious sign of preparing for the tournament.
The current government’s pre-election vision to build five state-of-the-art sports facilities, which would have boosted the preparations, remains a mirage two and a half years on.
Of immediate concern for Kenya, however, is the annual Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup, which is set to start in Ethiopia this weekend. This is a premier regional football event that pits national teams from East and Central Africa. There, expect Williamson’s boys to struggle against the likes of Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania and arch-rivals Uganda.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION