We all know at least one of the many black spots in our roads. My most scary black spot is the Nithi River Bridge on the Nairobi Meru road. These are spots where drivers are advised to be very cautious, because a small misstep and chances of survival are slim. This is what happens to Harambee Stars in group stage qualifiers for African Cup of Nations and the World Cup.
The Boston Marathon course is believed to be one of the best of the six Marathon Majors series. The course has a section of four hills that begin at the half way mark. They are not steep ascents but if you are losing steam, they can feel like climbing Mt. Everest. The last one is called Heart Break Hill and it’s at 33 kilometres. This section requires tactic and technic rather than speed and power to maneuver. Once you conquer this section, the course flattens out and some areas are small descents, you are assured of reaching the finishing line.
I will look at the AFCON qualifiers that are underway and how Kenya has fared. We drew 1-1 with Congo away then lost 1-2 to Zambia at home. Until that point, the group was still open as the first round of matches ended in draws then Congo and Zambia won their second round of matches. The third and fourth round of matches is the Heartbreak Hill of group stage qualifiers.
The qualifiers are designed in such a way that, two matches are played in one week of FIFA international matches window. The catch is, two teams play against each other home and away. It looks easy but this is the black spot where Kenya went off the rails and our qualification chances went up in smoke.
Kenya flew to Guinea Bissau leaving people murmuring and asking questions. The contingent had characters who people felt did not add value but were included to pay back campaign favours. FKF elections were in early February and the national team flew out for the midweek clash played on March 23rd this year. Kenya went into this crucial leg with a new team leading the federation and a new coach who selected a new squad. Our goose was fried before it was slaughtered.
Newly appointed coach Stanley Okumbi went to Bissau with a new set players that included two Kariobangi Sharks players. Kenya went down 1-0 and flew back for the return leg scheduled for Sunday three days later. We went down again with a solitary goal scored in the dying minutes of the match. Guinea Bissau who were lying with Kenya at the bottom with one point each less than a week earlier jumped to the top of the group. The only straw that was thrown into the group for drowning teams was that Zambia and Congo drew in both matches.
In June we managed to beat Congo 2-1 at Kasarani. As much we remained at the bottom of Group E, we raised our point tally to 4. We still have a chance of qualifying but it all depends on results of the other teams. We pray Guinea Bissau beats Congo while we beat Zambia in Lusaka. Looking at our record away from home, the odds are stuck against us.
Looking at other groups over the same leg I picked the following. Only Cameroun in Group M is leading their group after pulling two draws in March but they have won all their other matches. Liberia, DR Congo, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Morocco and Senegal won both matches in March and top their group. That is seven out of thirteen groups. The remaining six groups are led by, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Cote de Ivore, Algeria and Zimbabwe who drew in one of the two matches. There is no team assured of qualifying for AFCON that lost any of the two crucial matches.
This is to FKF and National team technical bench. We did a mistake to change coaches at this crucial stage, but that is behind us now. Going forward, we must prepare well for this leg of group qualifiers. Like the Boston Marathon, a marathoner must prepare mentally and tactically for the 21 to 33 kilometres stage to finish if not win the race, we must make sure the squad for this leg is known and well prepared in advance. This is the black spot where our football hopes and ambitions die every now and then. BEWARE.