Mali is beatable, Harambee Stars fired up for crucial qualifier

Harambee Stars training

Harambee Stars players are taken through their paces during their training session at Utalii Grounds in Nairobi on October 01, 2021. 

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Mali will host Harambee Stars in a Group "E" clash at Stade Adrar in Agadir from 10pm
  • Omar exuded confidence that despite the underdogs tag Kenyan can put up a good performance to emerge top of the group
  • The two sides have met twice in the Africa Cup of Nations with Mali winning once and one contest ending in a draw

Kenyan international defender Aboud Omar and midfielder Ismael Gonzalez have rallied their teammates to give their best and upset Mali in the Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifier on Thursday in Morocco.

Mali will host Harambee Stars in a Group "E" clash at Stade Adrar in Agadir from 10pm.

The match will be played behind closed doors at the 45,000 capacity stadium due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Mali opted to host the match in the North African country as none of its stadiums have been approved by Fifa and the Confederation of African Football (Caf) to host international matches.

Kenya will host Mali on Sunday in the reverse fixture of the group which also includes Uganda and Rwanda.

Omar, who plies his trade with AEL Larisa in Greece and Ismael Gonzalez who scored his first goal for his new club Real Murcia in 1-0 over Alzira in the Spanish second tier league over the weekend, were among the four foreign based players who joined Harambee Stars' camp on Wednesday in Morocco.

The other two who joined directly from their foreign bases are Joseph Okumu (KAA Gent, Belgium) and Erick "Marcelo" Ouma (AIK, Sweden). 

"In football anything can happen but what is certain is that both teams have a good squad. Just like any other team, Kenya is not only looking to win the match but eventually to top the group and qualify for the World Cup," said the 29-year-old Omar.

He exuded confidence that despite the underdogs tag Kenyan can put up a good performance to emerge top of the group.

"We are still in contention for the top spot since we are number two in the group. We have enough experience after featuring in the African Cup of Nations and can also make it to the World Cup," he added.

The last time Omar featured for Harambee Stars was back in 2019 at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cairo, Egypt. Since then he has always been overlooked by former tactician Francis Kimanzi and Engin Firat's predecessor, Jacob "Ghost" Mulee. 

Gonzalez, who last earned a call up in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Comoros, was also optimistic of a positive result against Mali.

"It is always an honour to come back to the National Team and I'm so elated. We have a strong team that has quality and power and can win the game," said the 26-year-old midfielder.

Mali top the group on four points while Kenya and Uganda have two each. Bottom-placed Rwanda who have a point host Uganda at the Nyamirambo National Stadium in Kigali.

The two sides have met twice in the Africa Cup of Nations with Mali winning once and one contest ending in a draw. Mali beat Stars 3-1 on January 24, 2004 while the two teams drew 1-1 in the 1972 edition in Yaounde, Cameroon. 

Southampton midfielder Moussa Djenepo, Brighton maestro Yves Bissouma, highly-rated Al Ahly midfield gem Aliou Dieng are among the high profile players to watch in the game.

Majority of Mali squad comprises players who ply their trade in France, Sweden, Germany and Portugal with only Mohammed Niare and Hamidou Sinayoko who play in the local Malian Premier League.

Only Dieng, Djigui Diarra of Young Africans (Yanga), Niaré and TP Mazembe’s Boss Mounkoro ply their trade in Africa. 

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