Kenya national football team, Harambee Stars, will begin their quest to return to Africa’s premier football competition, the Africa Cup of Nations, with a tricky away tie to Congo Brazzaville in Owande City on June 14th.
Stars, who last appeared at the competition in 2004, already begun their training after national team coach Bobby Williamson provided his 31-man shortlist for the clash. Kenya record goal-scorer Dennis Oliech and UEFA Champions League winner with Inter Milan, MacDonald Mariga, were among those who were overlooked by the Scottish manager.
The exclusion of the duo from the national team has not raised eyebrows as it did when former manager Adel Amrouche dropped Oliech from his AFCON 2015 qualifier clash against Comoros last year.
It is hard to argue against Williamson’s move given the downward spiral the duo’s careers have assumed.
Oliech has become anonymous since he chartered into the unknown waters in Dubai where he signed for Al Nasr from Ligue 1 outfit AC Ajaccio. The 30-year-old’s career has failed to make any progress since joining the club as he continues to be overlooked even as a second choice hitman, hence selecting him would have been injustice to more deserving locally-based players.
Oliech has also only turned up for the national team three times in the last 8 international assignments, and failed to score in any of them. His last match for Stars was against Lesotho in August last year. He played 90 minutes as Stars were held to a barren draw which all but ended their chances of making it to AFCON 2015 for the first time in 10 years.
For his last goal for the national team, you have to go back to October 2011 when he netted against South Africa in an international friendly in Nairobi which ended his four-match goal drought.
The statistics point to a player who has lost his confidence in front of goal hence the decision to leave him out was timely and well-intended given the people who have been appointed to replace him.
Mariga had been called up for the previous four international matches but was also overlooked in Williamson’s squad. The FC Parma midfield anchor has had his once promising career blighted with injuries which has prevented him from fulfilling his potential. He has played only 10 matches for his club this calendar year as they got relegated to the lower division, thanks in part to the financial turmoil at the club.
Only against Juventus and Cagliari in the Coppa Italia did Mariga manage to finish 90 minutes, having returned from a long injury layoff in May 2014. Kenya are well stocked in the midfield position with Mariga’s brother Victor Wanyama the number one candidate for the defensive slot and will most likely slot alongside Gor Mahia’s Collins ‘Gatuso’ Okoth should Williamson opt for a diamond midfield.
John Makwatta of Ulinzi and Gor Mahia’s Ali Abondo have form and age on their side and are likely to offer more contribution than Mariga in the attacking midfield position. Humphrey Mieno, Bernard Mangoli and Francis Kahata are fresh legs who could provide width when called upon.
Oliech and Mariga have been servants, at times darlings, of Kenyan football for a decade now. However, their time wearing the national team jersey has come to an end and you can only wish them the best of luck as they continue with their club careers overseas.