Kenya’s Harambee Stars aim to gain Mali scalp after opening draws in World Cup qualifiers

Football Harambee stars player celebrate during an afcon qualifier match against Ethiopia./The Star

Kenya’s Harambee Stars returned home on Monday following their 1-1 draw with Rwanda on Sunday that complicated their qualification bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Football Harambee stars player celebrate during an afcon qualifier match against Ethiopia./The Star

The team has now set their sights on their back-to-back second round World Cup African qualifiers in Group E against Mali in October to resuscitate their hopes of punching a ticket to the third and final round of qualifiers from the pool.

The Stars drew 0-0 against Uganda on Thursday at home before forcing Rwanda to take a share of the spoils on Sunday to remain second in Group E on two points.

Mali, who opened their campaign by beating Rwanda 1-0 at home, leads the pool standing on four points after drawing 0-0 away to 10-man Uganda on Monday.

On Sunday, captain Michael Olunga gave Kenya an early lead in the ninth minute but the hosts – the Amavubi Stars – battled back to be on level terms in the 20th minute through Abdul Rwatubyaye.

Both teams failed to break down the defences following the early scoring salvo to settle for a draw that left the hosts bottom of the pool with a point.

However, Stars head coach Jacob Mulee and his opposite number, Vincent Machami of Rwanda, insisted their World Cup dreams were not over despite the stalemate.

“Looking at both sides having not won their first game, we came to Rwanda and picked a point. It’s only two games played and we go to Morocco for the Mali game, that will determine which way we will go,” Mulee told journalists on arrival in Nairobi.

Noting that his team did not create enough chances to win the match, Mulee added the result between Mali and Uganda would also have a bearing on the direction of the group.

“The group is still open because Kenya has got two points after two games and we have one out of two. The road is still narrow and we can still work hard and overturn the table as it stands,” Machami underscored.

The Rwanda coach rued they did not deserve to fail to win at home but admitted they came up against a strong side in Kenya who they were unable to break down.

Mali will host Kenya between October 6 and 9 in Morocco before the teams meet again three days later in a Group E double header that will also witness Rwanda host Uganda before travelling to Kampala for the return.

The second round of Group E qualifiers will wrap in November where only one of the four teams involved will secure a ticket to the third and final round of the African qualifiers for Qatar 2022.