Olunga set to miss Stars clash against Comoros

Kenya’s Harambee Stars will miss its star striker Michael Olunga for the 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against Comoros, set for November 11 and 15.

Olunga’s Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol yesterday said it was suspending ‘all activities’ for the first team and its academy after three players and 11 members of their staff tested positive for the coronavirus.

The club kept their identities undisclosed but revealed coach Nelsinho Baptista had contracted the novel virus.
Kashiwa were due to play Tokyo FC on Saturday for a cup match but that clash has been postponed with the announcement all but ruling Olunga out of the qualifiers.

“The activities of the top teams, academies and schools have been suspended since November 4 and will continue to be suspended for the time being.

“In addition, from tomorrow, the front desk staff will also be on standby at home, and in principle, we will work from home (as usual for telephone inquiries).

“In the future, when PCR tests are conducted, we will inform you of the results and will continue to work to prevent new coronavirus infections under the guidance of the public health protocols,” Kashiwa said in a statement.

Olunga, the J-League top-scorer, was conspicuously left out of the matchday squad on Saturday last week as his side went on to draw 0-0 with Shimizu S-Pulse.

Being the top scorer and without any reported injury, Olunga’s miss even on the bench was telling, causing panic in the Kenyan camp.

A source within Harambee Stars camp told Citizen Digital head coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee is in touch with Olunga, and is aware of the situation.

“It has not been officially revealed if he is among the infected players but the coach must be knowing because he is in touch with him. Obviously it is disturbing to imagine playing without him knowing how crucial the match is. The headache is filling his position if eventually he will be unavailable,” said the source, preferring anonymity.

Olunga skipped the October 9 international friendly against Zambia, and although the then Francis Kimanzi led-side won 2-1, his attacking quality was missed.

Mulee headache

In the 40-man squad named for the crunch matches in the Cameroon 2022 journey, Mulee would be left with Ulinzi Stars’ Oscar Wamalwa, Gor Mahia’s budding star Benson Omala, John Avire of Tanta FC (Egypt) and Masoud Juma to pick from Olunga’s replacement.

Mulee’s headache would be trusting Juma for the role he has arguably underperformed in during the previous tests including the Zambia tie, or throwing into the fray untested Omala (in the national team stage) who is a natural centre forward.

The other option is fielding Avire whose controversial transfer from Sofapaka to Tanta and an injury later have kept him off the team since last year’s AFCON in Egypt. However, Avire has mostly played a support striker role, including in the AFCON outings he partnered Olunga.

Wamalwa, a soldier with admirable humility, crept into the team during the 2019 Council of East and Central Africa Football Council (CECAFA) in Uganda.

In Kimanzi’s own words, he challenged him to fight for a place in the senior team, and somehow convinced him as he was an unused substitute in the Zambia match.

He is another option on Mulee’s paper, although just like Omala and Juma, he has not been active since March due to the COVID-19 scourge.

Mulee could also result in attacking using his available midfielders, to cover the gap as he looks to reap at least for points from the Group G leaders.