Kenya's Harambee Stars coach Bobby Williamson has said that how the team perform against Botswana in next month’s Olympic Games qualifiers will determine which players he will select to do duty in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers starting with Congo in June.
Kenya were handed a tough Group E that also contains 2012 African champions Zambia, 2015 losing quarter-finalists Republic of Congo and Guinea Bissau.
Williamsom said that he will put trust in the junior national team in the Olympics qualifiers against Botswana, and that there will be little need to recall the experienced foreign-based players if the youngsters perform.
“My plan from the very beginning was to build a new team by enabling the junior side grow by giving them as much international exposure as possible. That team has so far played three matches and have lost only once and I have certainly observed gradual improvement with every match.
“I am not saying that we shall close the door on anyone. I remain open minded and mine is to look for the best player, whether they are foreign-based, Kenyan Premier League players or those from lower tier sides.
“I know that the more they play together the better they will become and if they can beat Botswana then that will confirm that they are well capable of taking on our Afcon opponents,” he said.
Only group winners are guaranteed of automatic qualifications to the 2017 African finals that will be held in Gabon. However, the two best placed finishers from the 13 groups will also win berths to the finals.
Williamson led Uganda Cranes against all the three teams that have been drawn with Kenya. He told kpl.co.ke that he had “an inkling” of what these teams are made of.
“I played against Zambia and we lost on penalties, against Congo Brazzaville we bowed out on a 4-3 aggregate loss and we beat Guinea Bissau home and away when I was Uganda Cranes coach. I know that they are good teams and I hope that our match against Botswana will provide a good buildup,” he said.
Harambee Stars are scheduled to begin their 2017 qualification campaign on the weekend of June 12-14 away to Congo, welcome Zambia at home in September before travelling to Guinea Bissau in March.
Group A: Tunisia, Togo, Liberia, Djibouti
Group B: Madagascar, DRC, Angola, Central Africa Republic
Group C: Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Benin, South Sudan
Group D: Burkina Faso, Uganda, Botswana
Group E: Zambia, Kenya, Congo, Guinea Bissau
Group F: Cape Verde, Morocco, Libya, Sao Tome
Group G: Nigeria, Egypt, Tanzania, Chad
Group H: Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Mauritania
Kenya’s fixtures (home team listed first): June 12-14th, 2015 - Congo vs Kenya; September 4-5, 2015 - Kenya vs Zambia; March 23-26, 2017 - Kenya vs Guinea Bissau; June 3-5, 2016 - Kenya vs Congo; September 2-4, 2016 - Zambia vs Kenya