Kenya face stern test as they take on Salah-less Egypt in opening 2021 Afcon qualifier
By Charles Thuku and Vincent Voiyoh
National football team Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi faces his moment of reckoning as the team plunges into an involving 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying match against Egypt at Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria at 7pm today.
Since being appointed Stars head coach in August to replace FrenchmanSebastien Migne, Kimanzi has not registered a win in two matches, both friendlies, which is why he is on the spotlight in the assignment against the seven-time African champions.
Kimanzi has previously coached Stars in 2008 and 2012 and in his third, he has started with a 1-1 draw with neighbours Uganda Cranes followed by a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Black Mamba of Mozambique at home.
These statistics do not make a comfortable read, especially given that Kimanzi was Migne’s understudy when Stars made a faulty campaign in the 2019 Afcon in Egypt where they were eliminated at the preliminary stage.
Besides Egypt, Kenya is pooled with equally battle-hardened Togo and fast-rising Comoros in Group G of the qualifiers which means their work is cut out as they search for a ticket to revisit Africa’s premier event.
After being done with Egypt, Kenya’s next match will be against the Hawks of Togo in a match that will be played under floodlights at Kasarani Stadium on Monday before facing Les Coelacantes of Comoros in the first leg encounter later this year.
The statistics between Stars and Egypt’s Pharaohs are worlds apart in that out of 19 meetings, the latter have won 14 with four matches ending in draws. Kenya’s success over Egypt was in 1979, their first ever meeting, which they won 3-1 in an international friendly in Nairobi.
However, before Stars flew to Cairo on Tuesday, Kimanzi said he was unfazed by his team’s prospect of facing Africa’s football heavyweights.
“Our approach in Egypt is to be as composed as possible. We’ll try to defend astutely and catch them on the counter,’’ said Kimanzi.
On the flip side, Egypt will be without their Liverpool star Mohamed Salah who is struggling with a persistent ankle injury.
The 27-year-old has picked up a knock that will prevent him facing Kenya and Comoros, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) has said.
Salah was pictured with an ice pack on his ankle after he was substituted in the closing stages of the Reds’ crucial 3-1 win over title rivals Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Tusker midfielder Boniface Muchiri who was on trials with US side Golden State Warriors has linked up with Stars in Alexandria and is likely to be in Stars starting squad.
However, Stars are handicapped by the unavailability of ex-Sofapaka striker John Avire whose position club-wise is yet to be known after reportedly ditching ‘Batoto ba Mungu’ to controversially join paid ranks in Egypt.