Ken Odhiambo reveals big plans for Cosafa-bound U-23 side

Ken Odhiambo and Anthony Akhulia

Harambee Stars Under-23 coach Ken Odhiambo (right) and Anthony Akhulia during a training session on June 24, 2024 at Nyayo National Stadium.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The team is expected to leave for South Africa on Tuesday morning.
  • Right-back Rooney Onyango will captain Kenya in the tournament. 

Harambee Stars assistant coach Ken Odhiambo says fielding an Under-23 side in the 2024 Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Cup will go a long way in creating a formidable national senior team.

Kenya will compete as guests in the 12-nation tournament that will be held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa from June 26 to July 7.

Hosts South Africa, Mozambique, Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Comoros, and Seychelles are the other countries that will feature in this year’s tournament.

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) appointed Odhiambo to lead Harambee Stars in the tournament, alongside his compatriot in the national senior team, William Muluya.

On Monday, Odhiambo said senior players, Teddy Akumu and Johnstone Omurwa, who were named in the 36-man provisional squad, have both been dropped.

The team is expected to leave Nairobi for South Africa on Tuesday morning.

“Fielding a junior side in the tournament is a big risk but I think it is worth it because I know this is what these young players have been waiting for,” Odhiambo said.

“Rome was not built in a day and for us, we are in the middle of that process. If these players get the opportunity to play at such top levels, in case they get an opportunity to play in the national senior team, they will be ready for the challenge," Odhiambo said.

"This is also a good platform to prepare the players who will be representing their respective clubs in the Caf inter-clubs competitions,” he added.

Spain-based prodigies Amos Wanjala, and Aldrine Kibet are among the players who were named in the provisional squad for the Cosafa.

The pair was among the standout players for Kenya in the 2023 Cecafa U-18 tournament where the Junior Stars lost 2-1 to Uganda in the final at Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium in Kisumu on December 8, 2023.

Other notable inclusion in the provisional squad are England-based Zech Obiero (Leyton Orient), George Gitau (Middleborough), Jeremy Bissau (Brooke House College).

Odhiambo paid tribute to Akumu and Omurwa for their contribution in preparing the budding players for the tournament.

“I’m so grateful for what they have done to these young players. We believe their contribution will be helpful in the team’s performance in South Africa,” Odhiambo said.

Right-back Rooney Onyango will captain Kenya in the tournament. 

“He (Onyango) is one of the best players at the moment in the Kenyan Premier League. This boy is a leader and I believe he has a bright future. We pray for him to succeed in his career,” said Odhiambo of the Gor Mahia’s right-back. 

Harambee Stars will be making their second appearance in the Cosafa Cup, having debuted the competition in 2013 when they went out in the group stages.

Competing teams have been drawn in three groups, with Kenya in Group “B” alongside reigning champions Zambia, Comoros and Zimbabwe.

Group “A” consists of hosts South Africa, Mozambique, Eswatini and Botswana while Pool “C” comprises Angola, Namibia, Lesotho and Seychelles.

Kenya will begin their campaign against Zambia on Thursday.

“I believe that with God and the planning we have done in the short time that we had, we will show what we are made of and I believe come July 7, we will be smiling,” added the coach.

Kenya began their preparations for the tournament on Thursday.