Michael Olunga: We Are Ready To Make 2019 AFCON Opportunity Count

Jun 10 - by Mutwiri Mutuota for SportPesa News

Japan-based Harambee Stars striker backs Kenya to make an impact in Egypt arguing the team is more cohesive than ever before

Harambee Stars striker, Michael Ogada Olunga, pictured training in the team's base in France last week. PHOTO/Courtesy/FKF

  • Thankfully, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and his Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol came to an agreement that secured his release to join his teammates at their training camp in France where head coach Sebastien Migne and his side are fine-tuning their preparations for Egypt 2019
  • Despite of his status as the country’s biggest attacking threat, Olunga maintained he was also working hard to convince Frenchman Migne of his ability to lead the line in Egypt and be part of his starting XI
  • Kenya will play the Democratic Republic of Congo in yet another friendly on Friday (June 15) in Madrid, before they jet into Egypt four days for the AFCON where they will face Algeria, Tanzania and Senegal in Group C

FRANCE, Kenya- Kenyans collective hearts almost skipped a beat last week when reports suggested Michael Ogada Olunga could miss the Egypt 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with Harambee Stars who are returning to the continental showpiece for the first time in 15 years.

Thankfully, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and his Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol came to an agreement that secured his release to join his teammates at their training camp in France where head coach Sebastien Migne and his side are fine-tuning their preparations for Egypt 2019.

It just showed the weight of expectation placed on the shoulders of the lanky 25 year-old forward who is the titular figurehead of Stars current attack, filling the giant shoes once worn by namesake Michael Origi Okoth and Dennis Oguta Oliech.

For a country seeking to return to the apex of African football, Olunga who is credited with 14 goals in 32 appearances, will be pivotal in Kenya’s AFCON campaign as the forward in chief.

His revered predecessors in that role, Okoth and Oliech failed to fire their nation to the knockout stages of the biannual tournament and this time around, Olunga and his teammates are determined to lead Stars to their highest heights on their sixth AFCON appearance.

READ ALSO: Relief For Harambee Stars: Top Striker Olunga Released To Join France Camp

Speaking in an interview released by FKF from their base in France, the man who was fondly known as ‘The Engineer’ when he plundered in the goals for SportPesa Premier League winners, Gor Mahia FC is optimistic Kenya will rattle the continent in Egypt.

Placed in tough Group C against 1994 champions, Algeria and losing 2002 finalists Senegal and neighbours Tanzania, the Reysol man backed his team to stamp their mark once the Egypt 2019 extravaganza gets underway on June 21.

“I believe everyone in this camp right now had a dream because none of these players has ever played in this competition before and I’m not any different.

Everyone has an objective to go there as a team and try to have a good performance. 

“We had a good qualification campaign, being rated as one of the teams that conceded the fewest goals,” the ex-Tusker FC, Thika United FC and Gor striker charged.

It is this mean defence that Olunga identified as the solid platform on which to build on their AFCON charge and he is not fazed by the pressure on himself to create or deliver goals.

Good competition

“It was something very positive and as a player, I really like to have an input in this Kenyan side so that we can have a good competition.

READ ALSO: UEFA Nations League: Was Is A Hit Or Miss? The Verdict Is Out

“It’s not only about us, there are so many young footballers coming up and I’m sure our performance in this competition will help put Kenya back in the African football map,” Olunga who enjoyed stints in the Spanish top flight La Liga with Girona FC and the Chinese as well as Guizhou Zhicheng in China League One emphasised.

He emphasised a good AFCON campaign is what the country need to showcase her football talent to the world, an opportunity he and his teammates are raring to take for the sake of the current and future generation of players.

“We have so many good talents back at home but due to lack of participating in such competitions, it’s been very difficult for our players to go out there to be spotted and marketed.

 

Harambee Stars striker, Michael Olunga (in green) and his teammates listen to Sports CS, Amb. Dr. Amina Mohammed when she visited the team at their camp in France last weekend. PHOTO/Courtesy/FKF


“This is not only a chance for us, we are also fighting for the young little Kenyan out there who one day wants to be the next Olunga, Wanyama, Mariga, Oliech. That is the most important aspect,” Olunga who linked up with Stars in France last Thursday (June 6) emphasised.

Despite of his status as the country’s biggest attacking threat, Olunga maintained he was also working hard to convince Frenchman Migne of his ability to lead the line in Egypt and be part of his starting XI.

“Football is a funny game, of course many people will be relying on you but at the end of the day, it’s teamwork.  Whenever I’m given an opportunity to represent this country, I will do it wholeheartedly 

“I’m very patriotic and proud of this nation, where we’ve come from. Football has not been easy in Kenya and having come through the ranks to where we are today, it’s been a long journey,” the forward who top scored for Gor in their unbeaten 2015 title-winning season with 19 highlighted.

READ ALSO: Iheanacho Dropped, Mikel To Lead Super Eagles To AFCON 2019

Olunga is under no illusions that Kenya go to Egypt 2019 as favourites for the title but the side with potential and diverse players is ready to mix it up with any competition from kick off to the last minute of their campaign.

“As they say, Rome was not built in one day but for sure when we step onto the pitch, we shall fight for the country and give our level best.

Good facilities

“The team right now is a combination of experienced and young players, mostly coming through the SportPesa Premier League ranks,” he added.

Olunga who was voted the Kenyan Premier League Most Valuable Player for 2015 pointed out the advantage Stars have over other sides lining up in the expanded 24-team AFCON was the fact that the national team is anchored on home grown talent used to playing with each other hence more cohesiveness. 

“More local players are given an opportunity to represent their country as opposed to other nations like Senegal where all the team is made of international players,” he highlighted.

Having been part of the squads that failed to clinch tickets to the Equatorial Guinea 2015 and Gabon 2017 finals, Olunga is grateful the class of Egypt 2019 have been given an opportunity to train at good facilities as the one in France as well as playing against quality sides in friendlies.

“Not witnessed in previous regime, adding values and points and this is what the players need because football is not only played on the pitch. 

“Preparation starts outside the pitch and the results will transform themselves,” the player whose talent was unearthed at Liberty Sports Academy noted.

READ ALSO: Captain Wanyama Promises CS Amina An AFCON Performance To Savour

The period-spent training as a squad he added, had worked to make Stars a more cohesive unite where team chemistry amongst the players was their biggest asset.

Kenya will play the Democratic Republic of Congo in yet another friendly on Friday (June 15) in Madrid, before they jet into Egypt four days for the AFCON where they will face Algeria, Tanzania and Senegal in Group C.

Harambee Stars striker, Michael Olunga (14) joins his captain, Victor Wanyama (12) and teammates to celebrate the latter's goal in their 1-0 friendly win over Mauritius. PHOTO/Courtesy/FKF