Harambee Stars’ head coach, Bobby Williamson, revealed the soldiers he trusts will do the job in Ethiopia in an Africa Nations Championships (CHAN) qualifier match on Sunday June 21.
With the competition admitting only locally-based players, the big news was the recalling of Gor Mahia midfielder Ali Abondo and Jacob Keli who were left out of the traveling party that drew 1-1 away to Congo Brazzaville in an AFCON 2016 qualifier.
Breaking from the norm of naming 23-players, Williamson revealed only a 20-man squad as Harambee Stars go for a result that will put them on course to qualifying for their maiden CHAN appearance.
Here’s the FourFourTwoMedia Predicted XI:
Why: Tested and proven. A 1-1 draw away to Congo Brazzaville, AFCON quarter-finalists, was remarkable.
Goalkeeper: Wycliffe Kasaya
Why: Do not be mistaken. Boniface Oluoch had an atrocious time in goal for Stars in Congo. His handling was erratic, he tried in failure to be a sweeper-keeper and had his defence in panic mode whenever Congo attacked. His confidence must have taken a huge battering and you would forgive Williamson if gives the Gor Mahia custodian a second chance. However, it may backfire. Another awful performance and his future between the posts may be over. Kasaya, for all his shortcomings, is one of the best keepers Kenya has and will be a reliable replacement. Oluoch can watch, and learn, albeit having been given the captain’s armband.
Center-Halves: Jackson Saleh, Lloyd Wahome
Why: Saleh conceded the penalty that Congo converted to secure a 1-1 draw against Kenya. The Leopards defender had been hitherto almost faultless and will definitely be the first choice center back, his fourth cap in national team colours. Wahome was brought in to replace injured Harun Shakava. His experience and ability to handle pressure gets him the nod over Ulinzi’s Brian Birgen or Posta Rangers’ Charles Odette.
Left-Back: Aboud Omar
Why: Highly rated by everyone, except Francis Kimanzi. The 22-year-old is a free agent but it won’t remain so for long. A great dribbler and with the same level of crossing ability, the former Bandari man is making the left full back position his own. He struggled against Congo but should earn his 17 cap, easily.
Right-Back: Edwin Wafula
Why: Dropped in Congo in favour of David Owino, Wafula is a trustable customer and has lots of experience at the national team level. A hard tackler who can bomb forward and deliver crosses, the Tusker-bound man is arguably one of the best right full backs in the country, though he has a high affinity for picking unnecessary bookings.
Defensive Midfielders: Collins ‘Gatuso’ Okoth, Bernard Mang’oli
Why: Gatuso played alongside Victor in the midfield anchor role against the Congo Red Devils. He is used to protecting the defence on his own hence looked uncomfortable, lost when he had another body next to him. The system worked though and Williamson will most likely prefer it against the highly passing Ethiopia. Despite his low-key performance, there are few better doing the job than Oluoch. The all-round ability of Mang’oli will blend in well.
Attacking Midfielders: Ali Abondo, Kevin Kimani, Humphrey Mieno
Why: The exclusion of Abondo from the team that traveled to Congo raised eyebrows. It was seen as a self-destructive move from Williamson but the Scotsman later admitted he didn’t want the KPL topscorer to suffer burn out. Abondo has cut himself out as one of the best offensive midfielders in the local league. With Olunga, his club-mate, just ahead of him, he will fancy himself getting into the Wallias’ penalty area more often than not. Kevin Kimani will instill speed and vision from the upper third and with a great crossing ability, Olunga should carry enough painkillers just in case. Mieno, though poor off the ball, is a great passer and has enough energy to cover his full backs.
Striker: Michael Olunga
Why: This leggy young man is carving himself out as one of the best forwards of our generation. With four goals in as many matches for the senior and U-23 team, the 21-year-old has evolved from just being regarded as a hot prospect to the go-to man when you need goals. He will fancy himself getting at the end of neat crosses from Kimani and co, while his combination with teammate, Abondo will be one to watch. If Oluoch is dropped to the bench, how about he gets the armband, and lead from the front?
Alternative formation: 4-4-2
Aboud Saleh Wahome Wafula
Johanna Gatuso Kimani Mieno
The Traveling Party:
Goalkeepers: Wycliffe Kasaya (AFC Leopards) , Boniface Oluoch (Gor Mahia)
Defenders: Brian Birgen (Ulinzi Stars) , Edwin Wafula(AFC Leopards), Aboud Omar (Unattached ), Jackson Saleh (AFC Leopards) Odette Charles (Posta Rangers) , Lloyd Wahome (Tusker FC)
Midfielders: Eric Johana (Mathare United) , Ali abondo (Gor Mahia) , Kevin Kimani (Tusker FC) , Collins Okoth (Gor Mahia), Humphrey Mieno (Tusker FC) , Bernard Mang’oli (AFC Leopards) ,Stephen Wakanya (Chemelil Sugar) , Timonah Wayonyi (AFC Leopards)
Strikers: Jesse Were (Tusker FC) , Michael Olunga (Gor Mahia), Jacob Kelli (AFC Leopards) , Noah Wafula (AFC Leopards)