Harambee Stars prodigy Zakayo wants to stand tall in Mali duel

Tusker FC forward Ibrahim Joshua (right) celebrates with teammate Erick Zakayo

Tusker FC forward Ibrahim Joshua (right) celebrates with teammate Erick Zakayo after scoring during their Football Kenya Federation Super Cup match against Gor Mahia at Thika Stadium on September 22, 2021. 

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Zakayo who was promoted to the senior team from Tusker's junior side in 2019, was among the surprise inclusions in Harambee Stars final 25-man squad for the back-to-back Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Mali
  • Tusker coach Robert Matano congratulated the youngster saying he is a talented player who can change the game and that is why he prefers fielding him in second half
  • The other surprise inclusion in the final squad is US-based 20-year-old midfielder Philip Mayaka, a St Anthony Boys' High School alumnus

On February 23 this year, Tusker were trailing Nzoia Sugar 1-0 in a Football Kenya Federation Premier League match at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Annex.

As a tough Nzoia Sugar side raided Tusker, coach Robert Matano introduced youngster Eric Zakayo in the second half for the experienced Brian Marita and the change worked magic as the brewers went on to win 2-1.

The 18-year-old Zakayo played a key pass that led to the team’s equaliser by Jackson Macharia before floating in a cross that was headed in by Henry Meja to help the Brewers’ pick up maximum points at home as Matano danced on the touchline in celebration.

On Monday,  Zakayo who was promoted to the senior team from Tusker's junior side in 2019, was among the surprise inclusions in Harambee Stars final 25-man squad for the back-to-back Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Mali.

Interestingly, Zakayo only received his maiden call-up to to the national team last week from Turkish Coach Engin Firat. 

"This is a great achievement and if I get a chance to play against Mali I will do my best so that we can win. As a young player this is the best opportunity to learn from the experience players in the team," Zakayo told Nation Sport on Monday.

Tusker coach Robert Matano congratulated the youngster saying he is a talented player who can change the game and that is why he prefers fielding him in second half.  

"His only problem is  inconsistency which I can attribute to some off-pitch issues. He should just keep focus and replicate the good form he has shown in the national team," said Matano.

Kenya will play Mali in the Group "E" Fifa World Cup qualifier in Morocco on Thursday from 10pm. The match will be played at the 45,000 capacity Stade Adrar in Agadir behind closed doors due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Mali opted for the game to be played in Morocco as it lacks a standard Caf and Fifa-approved stadium. Kenya will host the reverse fixture on October 10.

The other surprise inclusion in the final squad is US-based 20-year-old midfielder Philip Mayaka, a St Anthony Boys' High School alumnus.

Mayaka plays for United State League Championship club Colorado Springs Switchbacks on loan from Major League Soccer (MLS) side Colorado Rapids.

Ulinzi Stars custodian and Golden Glove Winner James Saruni was surprisingly dropped from the squad as his place was taken by Kinondoni Municipal Council (KMC) custodian Farouk Shikalo, an issue which has raised eye brows among football fans. 

Saruni was part of the Harambee Stars squad in the previous two Group "E" World Cup qualifiers.

Kenya played out to  barren draw against Uganda at the Nyayo National Stadium on September 2 and settled for a 1-1 draw against Rwanda on September 5.

Others who failed to make the cut were Kariobangi Sharks trio of Samuel Olwande, Patillah Omoto and Sydney Lokale, Gor Mahia youngster Frank Odhiambo, Wazito's Musa Masika, KCB's Reagan Otieno and Bandari's  Keegan Ndemi.

South Africa-based Ovella Ochieng' did not report to camp.

Simba SC defender Joash 'Berlin wall' Onyango, David "Calabar" Owino, Ismael Gonzalez (Real Murcia) and Wazito's Johnstone Omurwa and Abud Omar (AEL Larisa, Greece) also makes comeback to the squad. 

The quintet were not called up for the Rwanda and Uganda matches.

Onyango last featured for Harambee Stars in 2-1 loss against Comoros Island last year in the 2022 African Cup of Nation Qualifiers but missed the 2-1 win over Togo in February after he allegedly tested positive for Covid-19.

The travelling party left JKIA at 9pm on Monday evening aboard a chartered plane for N'Djamena, Chad where they will have an hour's rest before proceeding to Rabat, Morocco.

The trip will cumulatively take nine hours and Stars are expected to land in Morocco at 6am Tuesday morning. 

Squad

Goalkeepers: Ian Otieno (Zesco, Zambia), Faruk Shikhalo (KMC, Tanzania), Brian Bwire (Tusker)

Defenders: Joseph Stanley Okumu (KAA Gent, Belgium), Joash Onyango (Simba, Tanzania), David Odhiambo (Napsa, Zambia), Johnstone Omurwa (Wazito), Eugene Asike (Tusker), Daniel Sakari (Tusker), David Owino (KCB), Abud Omar (AEL Larisa, Greece), Eric Ouma (AIK, Sweden), Bolton Omwenga (Kagera Sugar, Tanzania)

Midfielders: Richard Odada (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia), Lawrence Juma (Sofapaka), Ismael Gonzalez (Real Murcia, Spain), Kenneth Mugun Azam, Tanzania), Duke Abuya (Nkana, Zambia), Boniface Muchiri (Tusker), Erick Zakayo (Tusker), Philip Mayaka (Colorado Rapids, USA), Abdallah Hassan (Bandari)

Forwards: Michael Olunga (Al-Duhail, Qatar), Henry Meja (AIK Sweden), Erick Kapaito ( Arba Minch City, Ethiopia)

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