It was always going to come down to this in Group ‘C’ when the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations draw was conducted in April in Cairo: the do-or-die clash between neighbours Kenya’s Harambee Stars and Tanzania’s Taifa Stars.
With big boys Senegal and Algeria also in the group, Kenya and Tanzania were realistically expected to fight for three points in their meeting that would help their respective course for a third placed finish and possible passage to the knock-out stage.
And it has duly come to that on Thursday when they meet at the 30 June Stadium in Cairo, kick off 10pm local time (11pm Kenyan time) in a match where a loss for either side will spell the end of their campaign in Egypt.
Focused on the game
Both lost their opening engagements by a similar 2-0 score on Sunday — Kenya to Algeria and Tanzania to Senegal — to put themselves in this precarious position. “I expect three points, a victory,” Kenya coach Sebastien Migne simply said in the official pre-match news conference on Wednesday.
“We are focused on one game. There is a lot at stake. We want to win and progress,” said his Tanzanian counterpart Nigerian Emmanuel Amunike.
Gauntlet thrown. Kenya will need to improve greatly if they want to beat their familiar neighbours, and Migne was eager to take them on.
“With all due respect to Tanzania, they are not the same opponents as Algeria,” he said.
Japan-based Michael Olunga, who saw little of attack ball against Algeria, will be hoping for better service this time round.
The French coach said he will name a different first 11 from the starting line-up against Algeria.
“Tomorrow it will be another game. We have to learn quickly if we want to exist in this tournament. As a striker you want to score. I cannot blame any player for how we played in the first game. It was frustrating. It is all about team work. We hope to improve in the next game.”
Captain Victor Wanyama will anchor the midfield with Johanna Omollo, who came in as a substitute, likely to be given a starting role.
Migne may also tinker with the defence, but certainly still out is the injured Joash Onyango.
That backline will have to deal with Tanzania’s danger man and captain Mbwana Samatta of Belgian top league side Genk.
Kenya could draw some confidence from recent history.
In the last 10 meeting with Kenya going back 12 years, Tanzania have won thrice: on November 14, 2012, November 23, 2010 and December 8, 2007 in Dar es Salaam.
In other words, during this period, Kenya has never lost to Tanzania outside Tanzania.
In their last African qualifier meetings in 2003, Kenya drew 0-0 with Taifa Stars in Dar before thrashing them 3-0 in Nairobi.
These are different times and Migne summed it all up: “We need to be in the tournament. We have not been here for 15 years. We cannot throw away this chance.”