Afcon: Mulee counting on ace Olunga to stop the Pharaohs

Harambee Stars head coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee is optimistic lead striker Michael Olunga will be available for the remaining 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers as he seeks to stage a strong finish against the Pharaohs of Egypt and Togo.

Olunga missed the November 2020 window of the crucial matches against Comoros, as Stars drew the fast rising islanders 1-1 at home before losing 2-1 away in Moroni.

Then at Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol, Olunga could not travel for the matches played in a span of four days as his club was quarantined following an outbreak of Covid-19 at the club.

Mulee offers that had Olunga been present, the script would have been different owing to his goal scoring record.

“We surely missed him in a big way in the two matches especially at home where we created so many clear chances only lacking a clinical finisher. His teammates really tried but you always know with him he will score at least a goal. We therefore hope all will be fine and he will lead our attack against Egypt and Togo,” said Mulee, after receiving Olunga’s award at the SOYA gala in Naivasha.

Olunga made history as the first ever footballer to clinch the Most Outstanding Athlete Award in the elite awards organised annually, for his exploits in the J1 League last season despite being locked out of the national team by the pandemic.

In an eventful season, he won the Most Valuable Player and the Golden Boot gongs in the  Japanese league, in his first season in the topflight, after playing a pivotal role in lifting Reysol from J2 and Mulee believes he deserved the honour.

“He really deserved the award, and it is good because he has inspired fellow footballers that it is possible to shine anywhere in the world, with passion, determination and discipline. It is also good that football has won in this year’s SOYA because most of the times athletics dominate the awards,” observed Mulee.

The veteran coach, who besides coaching Olunga at the national team level is the figure behind his development since his days at the Upper Hill High School, Nairobi through his Liberty Academy, feels Olunga has been tactful in his moves throughout his career.

Harambee Stars forward Michael Olunga during morning training session at Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on March 22, 2017. Kenyan national team trains ahead of their double-header international friendlies against Uganda and DRC Congo on March 23, and 26, 2017 respectively. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha

This is despite the debate that arose after the former Gor Mahia player chose to sign for Al Duhail of Qatar over a number of European clubs that had expressed interest in his signature.

“Every footballer has a unique career path, although there is the common route most people will expect. There are however some key issues you have to consider. For him we are told he was offered some good money which some of the European clubs like Mainz (Germany) were not ready to pay. Knowing he is well advanced in terms of age, he had to look at what he can build now for the future. If he enjoys the game and keeps the top form he has been enjoying then that’s satisfactory,” he explained.

Having already started early training with the local based players for the next month’s matches, Mulee has refused to concede Stars hope for AFCON is gone, despite the daunting demand to beat the seven-time champions Egypt and a bogey Togo side – away in Lome.

“I have called up the local players who are doing well and promising for the future. We can change the way the group looks and qualify if we beat Egypt and Togo, which to me is possible. However, I’m looking beyond the AFCON qualifiers, a lot is ahead of us and we must prepare well both for present and the future,” he noted,  a sign he’s also focusing on the the forthcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers where Kenya will tackle Mali, Uganda and Rwanda in the group stage.

Egypt and Comoros are joint top of Group G with eight points each, while Kenya has three with Togo reaping just one from her four matches so far.

With two teams qualifying from each group, Kenya’s hope is to beat Togo and Egypt to make nine points and hope for a favourable outcome in the clash between Comoros and Egypt in Cairo, in the final round of qualifiers.

With only four goals in the four qualifier matches, Mulee who is on record saying Stars’ major undoing is prolificacy in front of goal, believes Olunga’s thirst for goals could be the remaining element to rejig Kenya’s march to Cameroon.