The two countries will clash in Nairobi on Friday in preparation for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers
October 9 is the day day Francis Kimanzi will lead the Harambee Stars out for another international encounter after an almost year-long break.
Many people will want to see how the Kenyan side will perform against Zambia, and an intriguing subplot is the absence of several key players; how will the Harambee Stars fare without some of their big names?
Captain Victor Wanyama, Michael Olunga, Johanna Omollo, Arnold Origi, and Ayub Timbe will not be part of Kimanzi’s squad due to travel restrictions in light of the coronavirus pandemic, while John Avire is injured.
The absence of the stars, especially Olunga – the leading scorer in the Japanese top league with 19 goals – mean Kimanzi has much to ponder ahead of the showdown with the 2012 champions.
The timing of the friendly might have come at a tricky time, and the absence of Wanyama and co. may end up not helping matters for the Cecafa nation.
The former Mathare United coach has been left with a striking department that has been described as ‘blunt’ by a number of pundits.
Among the strikers called up, only Timothy Otieno is seen as a dangerous presence. The Napsa Stars striker had a good season with Tusker in the abandoned season, where he scored 15 goals. It is a matter of waiting and seeing what he has to offer should Kimanzi decide to field him.
Other strikers in the provisional squad are Elvis Rupia, Masoud Juma, and Oscar Wamalwa.
Rupia, who had to change clubs in the January transfer window after he failed to settle at Wazito, joined AFC Leopards, but has found it hard to match John Makwatta’s record. The national call-up should actually serve as an opportunity to show his effectiveness in front of goal.
Juma has had a relatively low-profile career at JS Kabylie in Algeria, while for Wamalwa, his inclusion is seen as a continuation of trust that Kimanzi developed in him given how he performed during the 2019 Cecafa Senior Challenge in Uganda.
The Ulinzi Stars forward won the Golden Boot after scoring three goals although the general performance of the team – which was eliminated by Eritrea – was wanting.
Should the absence of key players worry Kimanzi?
Former Sofapaka striker Ronald Okoth avers there is nothing to worry about regarding the absentees.
“The unavailability of the foreign-based players is an advantage to the local ones because this is their great opportunity to show their worth and what they can offer,” Okoth told Goal. “If the professionals would have come, definitely they would not have been called up.
“They should take it as a golden chance.”
Although history may suggest Zambia are pre-match favourites, Kenya may draw inspiration from the fact they will miss Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu of Red Bull Salzburg.
Stating the friendly is the best moment for the local lads to prove their worth to Kimanzi, Okoth believes Harambee Stars know what is expected of them against Chipolopolo.
“I think on paper Zambia have an upper hand, especially if you consider how active they have been in the previous months,” the former Gor Mahia striker continued, “but I know our boys are also looking forward to this game knowing that it is an important encounter.
“Expectations are very high on the boys and they surely know what it takes to play for the national team. I am sure they know it is a rare opportunity and one has to make maximum use in order to stamp authority on the national side.
“As much as Zambia have an upper hand I know we can fight but let us wait and see what we can get after 90 minutes.”
Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic will face Kenya after the Malawi tie which they struggled, but ultimately managed to snatch 1-0 win in Lusaka.
Zambia’s advantage does not end there, as their players may be fitter than those of Kenya.
Are Harambee Stars ready for the battle?
Kenya have not kicked a ball since the league was cancelled in March, and it took persistent pressure from the Football Kenya Federation to force the government to allow them to congregate, albeit just three days before facing Zambia.
For that reason, former AFC Leopards midfielder Francis Xavier is tipping Zambia to pick a win in Nairobi.
“From my own reasoning, Zambia have a slight advantage based on the resumption of their leagues because at least the players have kicked a ball, not like our own who have been out of the pitch since March,” Xavier told Goal. “For just that reason, I am giving them an upper hand especially given our professional stars, who have been a bit active, are not going to show up.
“However, the boys must fight in order to help the coach gauge their level of fitness and preparedness, but I have a feeling that we are slightly disadvantaged.
“One good thing is we are at home but let us wait and see how the players will respond during training.”
Kenya and Zambia are yet to win a single game in the Afcon qualifiers, and that raises the importance of the friendly even more.
Although Harambee Stars are unbeaten in Group G after 1-1 draws against Egypt and Togo, Micho’s men lie at the bottom of Group H having lost two games.
Kenya’s record against the Cosafa nation has been poor, with only six wins from the last 37 matches between the pair, but can they prevent Zambia from picking up yet another victory?