The Fifa World Cup is finally here after months of anticipation, excitement and controversy.
From Sunday, football fanatics in Kenya will join an estimated two billion television audience that will cheer on the world’s most popular national teams and players in the Qatar tournament.
“I’m vouching for Brazil,” Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale recently tweeted.
At stake for footballers is taking part in the most popular sports extravaganza on the planet.
This provides the biggest attention an athlete could crave for, alongside prize money plus the most prized trophy in sport.
Kenya’s Harambee Stars are missing in action. A number of reasons have been advanced for their perennial underperformance.
The first is that the Harambee Stars are not just good enough to compete at that level. Kenya is ranked 101 out of 211 FIFA member nations.
This tabulates to position 23 out of 54 national teams in Africa. Only 34 teams qualify for the World Cup, with five slots reserved for Africa.
Kenya has failed to qualify for the World Cup in 13 attempts since 1974, having featured in 74 matches, won 24, drawn 18 and lost 32.
The closest Harambee Stars came to qualification was in 1998, under the tutelage of German coach Reinhardt Fabisch.
Stars, then comprising the generation of Musa Otieno, Vincent Kwarula, Mike Okoth, Tiellen Oguta, Tom Ogweno, Ramadhan Balala and Bonface Ambani, beat Guinea and Burkina Faso at home, and the latter in Ougadogou.
Ken Simiyu scored from a cheeky flick from the back of his head to earn Kenya a 1-1 draw in Nairobi against a star-studded Nigerian team, fresh from lifting the Olympic gold medal in Atalanta.
The Super Eagles featured giants like Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha, Taribo West, Kanu Nwanku and Sunday Oliseh.
Unfortunately, the Kenyan lads stumbled in the reverse fixture in Lagos at the final hurdle. They lost 3-0.
“At some point, we had belief. But the team did not play for history. We played to win and satisfy out hearts and those of Kenyans. The loss to Nigeria is not something to be ashamed of. They were a much better side quality and experience wise,” captain Musa Otieno, now coach at Kenyan Premier League side Police FC, said.
Fast forward to 2022, and there was hope for qualification when Kenya was handed a “favourable” draw comprising Uganda, Rwanda and Mali.
FKF president Nick Mwendwa declared he would “do everything humanly possible to ensure Kenya qualifies for the World Cup”.
Harambee Stars drew at home and away to Uganda, drew away to Rwanda and won at home.
The results cost coach Jacob Mulee his job, with his replacement in the frame of Turkish Engin Firat arriving in time for a 5-0 drubbing by Mali in Morocco. Sports CS Amina Mohamed disband FKF for “poor performance” by Harambee Stars.