Analysis:  Migne’s areas of concern ahead of AFCON squad naming

Analysis:  Migne’s areas of concern ahead of AFCON squad naming


Analysis, by Jacob Icia

With barely 37 days left to kick off of the 2019 African Cup of Nations finals, Harambee Stars head coach Sebastian Migne is expected to name his squad for the showpiece at a press briefing in Nairobi tomorrow.

But even before he names the eagerly awaited squad that will do duty in Egypt at the 32nd edition of the event, it is clear that he has in mind 97 percent of the players he wants to take to Egypt, having clearly stated only 26 will travel to France for the pre-tournament official camp.

Thus, from the 26, only three will be excluded to fit the 23 limit number that Confederation of African Football (CAF) requires for the Cup of Nations fiesta.

Drawing from the squad that Migne has worked with in the qualifiers since his arrival in May 2018, it is no brainer only three areas could be giving him selection headache; central defense, right wing and centre forward.

Defence Question

In Migne’s tenure, Musa Mohammed, David ‘Calabar’ Owino, Brian Mandela, Joash Onyango, Bernard Ochieng and David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng have been given a nod, and it remains unclear who will be dropped among them.

Otherwise, if all are to go depending with his plan, then he will have less work to do. While Migne has shown admiration for Mohammed’s ‘leadership on the pitch’ almost giving him guarantee of inclusion, the question is who could partner him for the best result at the centre back.

Harambee Stars players Eric Ouma (L), Musa Mohamed (C) and David Odongo react during their AFCON 2017 qualifier match against Congo at Safaricom stadium Kasarani on June 05, 2016. Kenya won 2-1. Photo/Stafford Ondego/
Harambee Stars players Eric Ouma (L), Musa Mohamed (C) and David Odongo react during their AFCON 2017 qualifier match against Congo at Safaricom stadium Kasarani on June 05, 2016. Kenya won 2-1. Photo/SPORTPICHA

Mandela, who plays for South Africa’s Maritzburtg United could get the nod majorly because of his height advantage that would cover Mohammed’s physical deficiency, if the two are paired in the starting team. He has played 20 matches for the PSL side, starting in all showing the confidence his coach Eric Tinkler has in him.

However, having been in a defence line that has soaked in 31 goals in 29 matches leaving them at the tail-end, Migne will have to analyze more what the former Posta Rangers and Tusker player brings to the team.

If Migne carries six defenders (three centre-backs and three full backs), then Calabar, Onyango, Ochieng (Bernard) and Cheche will have to battle for the extra one position, as Aboud Omar and/or Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma and Philemon Otieno appear to have sealed the number three and two spots respectively.

Among the three, Migne may consider the one with the ability to flow in the full back positions if need be.

Zesco United’s Calabar would get the nod easily if the consideration was made, as he has been tried on right while at Gor Mahia albeit as temporary role on days of need from his usual centre back role.

With Migne aware of midfielder Dennis Odhiambo (Sofapaka) abilities as full back also, he would make a suitable man-on-standby in a day of need hence help him make the final decision on defenders to pick.

It is debatable whether to classify Ouma as a defender or a winger (left), as the player has exhibited splendid prowess in both left-back and left-wing positions. On a day Migne needs to attack more than defend, Ouma fits on the left back than Omar. If deployed as winger, his speed and power gives the strikers guarantee of fine crosses from his side. He can equally challenge for starting berth against Omar on the left-back drawing from his performance against Ghana in the last qualifier where he gave experienced Andrew Ayew quite a difficult time, making him quite important man to consider for Migne. Among his previous call ups, the Vihiga United man (B. Ochieng is most likely automatic candidate for dropping having sustained an injury over the weekend.

This makes the probable call-ups for the defence as follows: Musa Mohammed, Brian Mandela, Aboud Omar, Joash Onyango, Philemon Otieno, David Owino and  Eric Ouma.

Another area that Harambee Stars coach could be undecided so far is the right-wing position. He has not played with arguably the finest man for the position yet, Ayub Timbe (China) who has been out with injuries in the entire qualifying period.

His fate not confirmed yet, Ovella Ochieng, Chris Mbamba and Eric Johanna (all Sweden based) are candidates of the same role. While Johanna is an attacker from the middle naturally, he fits well on the right wing thus availability of the Beijing Renhe ace (Timbe) will determine who else Migne picks as his understudy.

Ayub Timbe of Harambee Stars during their morning training session at Kenyatta stadium in Machakos on June 07, 2017. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha/Citizen

Ovella was openly told by the head coach to prove why he needs to play in the Star’s starting team after the first leg of Ghana match at home, and how he has improved or not according to the Frenchman will be known when the final list is announced.

Mbamba, the newcomer, travelled with Stars to Ghana in the final qualifier but did not play. What is yet to be seen in him should be exposed during the France camp, especially after the international friendlies Kenya is set to play.

A place in the team will be similar to the call up of Emmanuel ‘Ake’ Mutendago who former coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee included to the 2004 AFCON squad in the eleventh hour.

Probable right-wings: Ayub Timbe, Chris Mbamba, Ovella Ochieng, Eric Johanna (makeshift)

Form and history

The number of strikers the coach would like to have according to his style of play will determine who is named to partner Kashiwa Reysol’s Michael Olunga. He is definitely the man to lead Stars in goal-hunt mission, but alongside who remains the big question.

FILE: Harambee Stars players Allan Wanga, David Owino and Jesse Were are escorted by security after team’s morning training session at the Hawassa University College in Ethiopia on November 25, 2015. Kenya play Burundi in their Cecafa senior challenge cup on November 26, 2015. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha.

Masoud Juma? Allan Wanga? If he wants three strikers, then the three fit in without much trouble but if he wants two, one will have to be dropped. There could be surprise entry too, from what John Avire has been doing in the attack with his mother club Sofapaka. The only query is whether he can deliver if given the role of an out-and-out striker which his coach John Baraza has not given him, of course having Stephen Waruru, Kephas Aswani and Piston Mutamba in his squad.

With injured Dennis Oliech out of the equation, Migne has limited options at least going by what we have seen in his plans so far. Mutamba has not been the most impressive so far, and the numbers that gave him an edge over out of favor Jesse Were have gradually faded. His name on the 26-man list would be quite a favour to behold.

Thus, Migne will have to choose between form and history, if either Wanga or Juma has to remain. Juma can be judged with what he has done before, after staying unattached for a while before signing for Al Nasr of the war torn Libya. Wanga currently tops the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) top scorer chart (KPL) with 18. Both can also travel depending with the formats he foresees in the continental campaign.

For the midfield, Victor Wanyama, Anthony Akumu, Johahanna Omolo, Francis Kahata, Odhiambo and Isamail Gonzalez besides the wingers to be picked could be automatically in Migne’s matrix.

Zambian based Harambee Stars players Anthony Akumu (L), Jesse Were (C) and David Owino arrive at Aeroporto Internacional Osvaldo Viera in Bissau, Guinea Bissau on March 22, 2016. Kenya plays host Guinea Bissau in their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier match. Photo/Stafford Ondego/

While it is obvious goalkeepers Patrick Matasi and Farouk Shikhalo will be in Cairo’s plane, it is not obvious for the third choice. For the Ghana sojourn, Kariobangi Sharsks’ Jeff Oyemba took his teammates’ (Brian Bwire) position who was with the U-23 team in Sudan then.

If he will be recalled or Oyemba will be kept, Migne knows he can find better options elsewhere, thinking of Ulinzi Stars custodian James Saruni.

Migne may not be having this debate in his mind, but Kenyans cannot afford to stop thinking the difference of value from the Migne’s preferred Bwire and a player of Saruni’s cadre.

And, the sharp man Migne will name the AFCON squad and the CHAN one at the same time, which will make it easier for the Egypt hopefuls who will miss the rare chance.