Unbowed Kimanzi keeps AFCON hope despite uninspiring Togo draw
Analysis, Jacob Icia
Harambee Stars head coach Francis Kimanzi is undeterred in his quest for the 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) ticket despite dropping crucial points at home against Togo on Monday night, at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani.
Stars squandered their lead to draw the Sparrow Hawks 1-1 despite dominating proceedings for the better part of the clash especially in the second half, coming from an inspiring similar draw away to seven-time champions Egypt.
Kimanzi, like every other Kenyan, wanted three points especially reckoning Togo lost 1-0 to a lowly ranked Comoros in their Friday opener at their Lome backyard, but proper caging of his main striker Michael Olunga and an almost impeccable defending by the visitors meant a share of the spoils.
“We, the coaches and players were prepared for a win and that’s why we even took the lead. They were however different from what we expected and worthy opponents. We are however still on the race firmly, because everyone in the group today dropped points. It tells you you the more the qualifiers are played the more the competition gets tougher. The group is very open for all teams so far,” the coach told in the post match interview.
He admitted Togo approach to the match disjointed his premeditated flow, aided by the West African’s physicality.
“It was a difficult game for us today but all in all the point is welcome, considering their height advantage and game approach, we struggled a lot in dealing with the high balls that they played. We did our best to manage them (Togo) in their preferred style but it was too late. The short turnaround and the long hours we had to travel from Cairo via Dubai certainly affected us today (Monday),” Kimanzi observed.
The coach had protested the flight booked by the Ministry of Sports last week, saying there was a shorter route to Cairo that would have needed as short as five hours from Nairobi, compared to the 16 hours via the Dubai route.
With the bookings done quite late, it was almost impossible to change the route as the Ministry maintained the initial plan.
Belgium based Johanna Omollo who netted the all important goal for Stars rued the missed opportunity to leap to the summit of Group G, a spot now held by Comoros with four points.
“We definitely wanted to win at home because this campaign becomes harder when you fail to capitalise on home advantage.We are however thankful for the point. The group is still open because it is just two points between us and the leaders. We will continue to work and get points in the subsequent matches…” said the soft spoken Omollo.
Unlike in Egypt where Kimanzi’s game plan was disrupted by the injuries sustained by goalkeeper Patrick Matasi and influential attacker Ayub Timbe, against Togo he had all the luxury of fielding his best available and changing at will.
Although he missed Timbe who is still nursing the injury, he had Matasi available to pick but preferred Ian Otieno who was only considered in the Alexandria test owing to unforeseen injury to Matasi, the St. George’s goalie.
But a tactical Claude Le Roy had a lot of respect for Kenya, and studied key strengths that he appropriately addressed. Having singled Olunga out in his prematch interviews, he made sure the Kashiwa Reysol man was policed throughout the match.
He cut him out of the game, starting with several fouls on him to frustrate his moves finally forcing Kimanzi to push him from the middle to the advantage of the Hawks.
The veteran coach however showed his disappointment with what he termed as “another thing but not football” in his post match remarks.
“I cannot answer questions about football because there was no football tonight. I love African football but this is sad to see what happens..the refereeing. The first reaction after the match I could only cry because that is not football. Thank you,” said the 71-year-old French man.
Kenya will next host Comoros in Nairobi (in March 2020) before touring the small island a week later in Moroni, in the hunt for Cameroon 2021 ticket.
During that FIFA week, Togo will battle it out with Egypt twice both teams seeking their first wins.