In the run up to the 2002 AFCON that was held in Mali, Tunisia would made sure that they would use maximum home advantage to annihilate their closest rivals Harambee Stars. They achieved that feat emphatically by drubbing stars 4-1 to book the ticket to Mali. As they were sadly departing Tunis, the Tunisian capital city, little did the Harambee Stars knew that eighteen months later they would be back in the country to participate in the 2004 AFCON tourney. When Tunisia hosted the same event in 1994, Stars didn’t qualify as their group rivals D r Congo had the better goal difference though they had tied on points.
The 2004 qualifiers was the most impressive stars have ever had in the marathon qualifiers. Paired with Togo, Cape Verde Islands and Mauritania, the opportunity of qualifying for the major continental event certainly looked achievable with the only real threat coming from Togo who had just participated in the 2002 event as well as 98 and 2000.Before the qualifying matches commenced , Stars did well to engage themselves in meaningful friendlies and mini tournaments. A visit to Lagos saw them dealt a 0-3 defeat by the Nigerians who were preparing for the FIFA 2002 World Cup. A 5-0 drubbing of Tanzania in Dar salaam confirmed that stars were ready to launch their 2004 AFCON campaign in the boldest way possible. More over the emphatic victory served as a potent message to their group opponents. The late Reinhardt Fabisch had moulded the squad that did duty in Tunisia 2004, parted ways with the federation and his assistant Jacob Mulee took over the reigns.
Further solid friendly matches against Egypt and the B.Faso, did much good to keep the stars in shape before they launched their campaign against Togo. Togo were whitewashed 3-0 and stars had started their qualifying campaign in the best shape possible. That the team outclassed their Togolese counterpart and inflicted a huge dent on their fiercest rival in the campaign did much to embolden their resolve in achieving their main objective of qualifying for the continental event. In contrast the defeat was a wakeup call to the Togolese who four years later were participating in the World Cup hosted by Germany. A month training tour in the United Kingdom ensured stars would gain further exposure and the team would maintain their excellent momentum they had showcased so far.
For the first time in nine years, Stars recorded a nation’s cup qualifier away from home in Praia Cape Verde winning 0-1. The team continued with same spirit in the castle cup by beating South Africa and Uganda before winding up the year lifting the challenge cup upsetting Tanzania 3-2. In preparation against Mauritania, the qualifiers group whipping boys, their momentum had somewhat lessened as they struggled to a 2-2 draw with Uganda before recovering and beating Tanzania 4-0. The same score line was dished to Mauritania as Stars competed their halfway of the qualifiers in the most perfect way. Before they were hosted by Mauritania they held Sudan and 2006 World Cup debutants Trinidad to a 1-1 draws before they were frustrated to a goalless draw by Mauritania.
Needing a point against Togo to guarantee qualification, Stars engaged Ghana’s black stars in a meaningful friendly which they went on to upset their most illustrious counterparts 3-1. If the win had the stars dreaming that they could defeat Togo convincingly in Lome, they were in for a rude shock since Togo had by then fast –tracked five Brazilians and naturalised them. Stars were no match to Togo and were duly beaten 0-2. Suddenly the team formed had dipped and it was clearly illustrated in their final qualifying match against Cape Verde who gave stars all sought of physiological problems before finally stars ground out a 1-0 win late in the game to a certain their qualification.
A dour 2-2 draw with UAE before the AFCON and a 0-2 loss to Libya indicated that stars were not up to scratch to face its group opponents. Mind you they were paired with West African nations. Senegal were just fresh from their 2002 World Cup quarter final honey moon while Mali were basking under their glorious semi-finals place during the previous tourney event. Only Burkina Faso wouldn’t provide formidable opposition to the stars. Even though stars had Six European professional players in the team with most of them plying their trades in the Scandinavian leagues, were still no match to the Malians and Senegalese French professionals. Mali defeated stars in the group opener 3-1 before Senegal put paid to Stars hopes of a first time ever quarter final appearance with a 3-0 drubbing.