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Aug 5, 2014

Kenya come up short in ANC qualifying

Algerian Adel Amrouche failed to lead Kenya into the next round of African Nations Cup qualifying.
Algerian Adel Amrouche failed to lead Kenya into the next round of African Nations Cup qualifying.

The African proverb, "When elephants fight it's the grass that suffers," is used to describe the destruction caused when big boys do battle. But what about when ants argue? There may not be as much obvious chaos but the intricacies are really interesting. That is what has been happening in Kenyan football, ranked No. 95 in the world, over the past 48 hours.

They've gone from being booted out of contention from a tournament they have not qualified for in a decade, the African Nations Cup (ANC), to having their entire management overhauled. The latter may not have happened had it not been lowly Lesotho, languishing at No. 131 on the rankings, who laughed in Kenya's face at the weekend.

A long goal in Maseru two weeks ago saw Lesotho take the lead in their two-legged ANC second-round qualification tie. Kenya would not have been too troubled by that because they would have thought that it could be easily overturned. They needed to score twice at home, or once and emerge the more accurate from a penalty shootout, and they would have backed themselves to do that even though their coach would watch the game from the sidelines. Instead, Kenya failed to find the back of the net and a goalless draw sent Lesotho on to the next round.

Kenya head coach Adel Amrouche had been slapped with a one-year ban by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for allegedly spitting at a match official during the first-round qualifier against Comoros. The Kenyan FA were appealing the sanction and both Amrouche and Comoros head coach Amir Abdou claimed the Algerian was innocent. Word out of the team camp was that the off-field shenanigans would not get in the way of their ANC campaign, which was supposed to reflect the progress they had made under Amrouche.

Since Amrouche's appointment in February 2013, Kenya had risen 13 places on the FIFA rankings and lost only two out of 16 matches before they faced Lesotho. Amrouche believed he was building an outfit that could appear at an ANC. So did the Kenyan FA. So when Lesotho apparently dashed those dreams, the administrators showed how harsh the consequences could be.

The entire technical team was sacked and Amrouche's ban will presumably be his own battle to fight. In a statement, Kenyan FA president Sam Nyamweya said the trainers had "disappointed Kenyans." The next day Kenya unveiled Bobby Williamson as their new coach, giving the Scotsman his second stint in charge of an East African national side.

Williamson had a five-year-stint with Uganda which culminated in great success, although he was sacked as a result of it. Uganda came within a spot-kick of qualifying for the 2013 ANC, which would have seen them make their first appearance at the tournament since 1976. Better still, they were up against defending champions Zambia in the qualifier, but eventually lost 9-8 on penalties. Since then, Williamson has been with Kenyan Premier League side Gor Mahia, who currently are top of the table.

Williamson's close involvement with the East African game is what prompted Kenya to put him in charge of changing their fortunes. "We needed a coach who understands our game and Bobby Williamson is that kind of a coach. He has been around for long having been at the helm of Gor Mahia and we hope with our support, he will be able to bring required results," Nyamweya told New Vision newspaper.

Exactly what those results are is yet to be determined. Kenya are out of contention for ANC 2015 and will have to hope their relationship with Williamson lasts long enough to see them through to the next continental cup in 2017. They may also look for silverware from next year's regional tournament, the CECAFA Cup. Until then, it's only about making sure the likes of Victor Wanyama and McDonald Mariga continue to inspire a generation of determined Kenyan players, who will continue to look for opportunities to play in bigger leagues and bring those skills back home.

While that happens, Lesotho are the major beneficiaries of the Kenyan meltdown and will attempt to make a maiden appearance at the continental cup. They will play in Group C which includes Burkina Faso, Angola and Gabon.

The other teams to progress to the group stage of qualifying are Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. While Uganda and Botswana were comfortable 3-0 and 3-1 winners over Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau, respectively, Mozambique edged out Tanzania in 4-3 on aggregate while Rwanda and Malawi needed penalty shootouts to overcome Congo and Benin. Sierra Leone's path was cleared by Seychelles withdrawing from the match that they were due to host because immigration officials barred the West African team from entering the island over fears concerning the highly contagious Ebola virus.

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