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How home grown talents are playing a leading role in Kenya’s push for AFCON qualification

The Harambee Stars of Kenya are in pole position to pick one of two available tickets from Group F in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers and make a first tournament appearance at CAF’s flagship competition since 2004.

The team, coached by Sebastien Migne are currently top of the group with seven points, followed by Ethiopia on four points, Ghana in third-place with three points and the suspended Sierra Leone at the bottom with three points.

Harambee Stars players celebrate their first goal against Ethiopia in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nation qualfying match at Kasarani, Nairobi. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO

With two matches left to play in the current qualification format before the identity of the 24 qualified teams are revealed, Kenya are drawn-back for this weekend’s game against the suspended Sierra Leone. This leaves Ethiopia and Ghana to battle it out in Addis Ababa on match day five, as both teams look to cancel each other out, an outcome which could only be sweet news to the ears of the Kenyans.

Much of Kenya’s success and progression has come as a result of the immense contributions of the home grown players in the squad. A good number of players in the squad either have past affiliations or are currently plying their trade in the Kenyan Premier League.

Top striker Michael Olunga on whose shoulders the goal scoring responsibility has fallen on in recent years, hasn’t failed to deliver in front of goal, scoring 14 times in 32 international appearances. The 24-year-old currently on the books of Kashiwa Reysol in Japan started out his professional in the domestic league with Tusker, before having further spells at Thika United and Gor Mahia. Credit must go to the Kenyan Premier League for honing the goal scoring instincts of the 6ft-3in target man, who has equally found the back of the net in the ongoing qualifiers, away to Sierra Leone.

Kenya’s Michael Olunga celebrates Harambee Stars’ goal against Ghana in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier played at Moi International Stadium Kasarani on September 8, 2018. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO

While Olunga might be one of a good number of foreign-based players who started out in the league before seeking greener pastures, coach Migne has also been able to call on a few standout domestic based stars. Goalkeeper Farouk Shikalo from Posta Rangers has impressed in the league and continues to play back-up to Patrick Matasi. The 21-year-old goalkeeper is a delight to watch with reflex saves and he definitely can be counted upon, if ever the need arises.

Joash Onyango is a tough tackling centre back from Gor Mahia and the 25-year-old has been an ever present in the heart of the Harambee Stars’ defence line in the qualification series and his all-action style got him sent-off in that famous victory against Ghana on match day two in Nairobi. Gor Mahia, who are record league champions with 17 titles, continue to play the big brother role with perfection, further having international duo Francis Kahata and Philemon Otieno on their books.

If expectedly Kenya secures a ticket to the 2019 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, it would be on record that their success story was driven by the inclusion of several home grown talents, a good advertisement to the availability of potential world beaters, who started out from various grassroots football tournaments, academies and are now leading internationals.

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