No matter what happens today at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Namboole, James Nandwa and his group of players have proved with the right attitude, unfettered support from the federation and self belief, Kenya can still be a regional powerhouse in football.
After years of mediocre performances in the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup that included two exits at the group stages, a largely second string Stars side confounded friends and critics to reach the final this afternoon where they will face Uganda.
Nandwa’s men needed penalties to oust Zanzibar 4-2 after the match ended 2-2 in regulation time. The manner in which they came back twice to take the match to extra time showed a never-say-die attitude that has been absent from Kenyan teams in the recent past.
“From the moment the team was chosen I saw the desire the boys had to prove they are good enough to be in the main national team,” Nandwa stated.
“Against Zanzibar we conceded a lot of possession and did not look comfortable on the ball. This is something we must change ahead of the final,” said the man whose Kenya Premier League side was relegated days before he was given the task to head the Kenyan team to the regional championships.
For Nandwa to finish the job he has done so well in, so far, he will have to outwit the wily fox from Scotland Bobby Williamson who is seeking a record fourth title in five years.
The Cranes coach is destined to become the most successful coach in the history of the tournament if they beat the Stars today.
Ugandans made easy work of Tanzania in their semi final, beating them 3-0 thanks to goals from Robert Sentongo, Emmanuel Okwi and Brian Umony and it is this trio that Stars will be well advised to be wary of.
The last time Stars were beyond the group stages was here in Uganda in 2009 when they were stopped by the Cranes by a solitary Umony goal in the final.
For the few members of that team, Anthony Kimani, Mike Barasa, and Duncan Ochieng the only three players above the age of 23, the final presents a perfect opportunity to exact revenge.
Nandwa will certainly be without the injured Bernard Mangoli and Victor Ochieng and with the energy brought down the wings by Kevin Omondi and Paul Were, this will be one avenue worth following.
Mike Barasa’s goals and work rate assures him of a place in the starting line up.
For Nandwa though victory or defeat he and some of his players have earned a place in the national history books.