Dar es Salaam — There is a sense of optimism with Kenya’s national football team which opens its Tusker Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup Monday against Malawi at the National Stadium from 4pm. It is not unlike the days of the late Reinhardt Fabisch, familiar and popular to any Kenyan football fan born before the 1990s for his three memorable stints with Harambee Stars. With Fabisch, Harambee Stars showed poise to hold their own against Africa’s best while spurring hopes of glory in an entire nation. Another coach, Francis Kimanzi, has come and, like Fabisch, has had a steering reign with the team. He produced a near-flawless campaign in 2008 during the 2010 World Cup first group phase of qualifiers that marked Kenya for greater things. He left at the start of 2009 but returned this month with a loud 7-0 aggregate win against Seychelles in a World Cup pre-qualifier. Kimanzi has also shown his championship credentials, leading the Stars to the final of the 2009 Senior Challenge Cup, where they fell 1-0 to hosts Uganda. The same year, he took a young and inexperienced Mathare United side to the semi-finals of the Cecafa club championship in Sudan. A young Harambee Stars squad with a lot to prove were due to land in Dar es Salaam yesterday afternoon, led by Kimanzi. The 35-year-old coach said the tournament would give him an opportunity to build his side for the World Cup and Nations Cup qualifier but picking up the Cup in Dar would not be far from his mind. Defence still a concern Kenya will need to start strongly against Malawi, who shocked them 3-2 at the same stage last year. Kimanzi has packed plenty of pace forward in Paul Were, Bob Mugalia, Stephen Waruru and Kevin Ochieng. But it is in midfield where Stars have real sparkle: Targu Mure’s (Romania) ball juggler Jamal Mohammed, experience Sofapaka man Titus Mulama, Gor’s upcoming Collins Okoth and former Stars captain Steve Ochola will look to have a piece of the action. Defence is still a concern and team captain Pascal Ochieng and new central partner Brian Mandela will be acutely aware of the need to keep it tight against the quick-to-shoot Malawi forward line. Flames coach Kennah Phiri, a former international, is very much at home at this level. He guided Malawi to a 3-2 win against Kenya last year and will relish another Stars scalp. Kenya, one of the contenders, face the first real test Monday. Group A top seeds Sudan meet Ethiopia in the first match from 2pm as Group B leaders Uganda play minnows Somalia at Azam Stadium in the third match.
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