Defiant ‘Ghost’ maintains Afcon dream far from over, Wanyama cautious
Harambee Stars head coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee is adamant it is not over yet for the team’s 2022 Africa Cup of Nations dream, despite the recent slump in the qualifiers following Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to a lowly ranked Comoros.
Mulee, who had promised to “turn tables” in Moroni after an uninspiring 1-1 draw in Nairobi last Wednesday in the first leg however admits the path has ‘narrowed’ as the qualification is not entirely in their hands.
Ahead of Tuesday night clash pitting Togo and seven-time champions Egypt, Comoros lead Group G of the qualifiers with eight points, three ahead of the Pharaohs while Kenya has only three.
Thus, a win for Egypt in Lome would mean the North African giants join Comoros at the summit, a result that would dent further the already thin chances for the Stars but Mulee is not giving up just yet.
“In football we say it is not over until it is over. We can still win the two matches and take our tally to nine points. Depending on the Togo versus Egypt result, we still have a chance that we cannot declare it’s gone before we play the matches,” maintained Mulee.
The veteran coach is relaxed despite the outrage expressed by football enthusiasts in the country following the dismal results.
“I also love football, and I want the best for our team. I’m however under no pressure because I came in just the other day and I have drawn, losing one. If you look at our record, we have not been winning away for many years, I think in the qualifiers we last won away in 2002. It is something we need to work on,” Mulee defended.
Whether Kenya makes it to Cameroon or not, Mulee says he is not worried as he has a target with the team beyond the AFCON dream.
“I have resigned before, but I think those are remedies of the past. I have a personal target to chase, so I can’t leave the team unless I’m fired,” Ghost said before bursting into his signature giggle.
Asked what went gone wrong in the two matches he has presided over since taking the mantle from Francis Kimanzi about a month ago, Mulee said the Coronavirus pandemic impact on the team has played a big role.
“See, when we played our first matches against Egypt and Togo, the local league was running. There was fair competition between local players and the foreign based ones. It’s a totally different situation when you have players who have been inactive for nine months.
“We can only hope the new season will start as planned to get active players by the time we travel to Togo March next year.”
Still, the absence of lead striker Michael Olunga whose Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol has been hit with Coronavirus made a huge difference, according to Mulee.
“He is a top player who we depend on. You saw we created so many chances in both matches, and we couldn’t convert them into goals. Olunga is the type of a player who will convert even half a chance for you, we missed him,” he regretted.
On his part, captain Victor Wanyama concedes it will be almost impossible to turnaround the team’s qualification fortunes in the remaining two fixtures, but paradoxically refused to completely throw in the towel.
“Those who watched the match saw what happened, sometimes that’s what football is. The players gave their all but it was not enough. There are two-three issues that need to be checked but that is not within my scope to speak about, the coach will,” a crestfallen Wanyama offered.
The Montreal Impact ace continued: “I can’t say because we lost to Comoros, we now give up. There is still a chance, only that it is a small chance. You never know, you can’t predict everything in football.”
In a related development, Egypt has been dealt another major ahead of their Togo match tonight after Arsenal midfielder Mohammed Elneny tested positive for Coronavirus.
Elneny was already in Lome for their rematch but was forced to fly back to Egypt, becoming a second key player forced out by the virus after Mohammed Salah.
This could massively impact their outing against the West Africans, whom they beat 1-0 on Saturday in the first leg in Cairo.