2020 OLYMPICS

EPAPER SPORTS- Can Shujaa win a medal in Tokyo?

Tactician says preparation for the past six months has been better than that of the 2016 edition despite the sport being ravaged by the Covid crisis.

In Summary

• Kenya has had success in team sports, with neither Hockey in the 70s and 80s nor Volleyball in 2004 faring dismally even at the Commonwealth games

• Shujaa open their campaign against the US, followed by a tough tie against South Africa and closing out their preliminaries against Ireland.

Shujaa players during a training session at RFUEA.
Shujaa players during a training session at RFUEA.
Image: ERICK BARASA

Can Shujaa become the first team to medal at the Tokyo Olympics later this month?

This is the big question on everyone's lips, with barely a fortnight to the start of sports' biggest extravaganza.

Kenya has not had success in team sports, with neither Hockey in the 70s and 80s nor Volleyball in 2004 faring dismally even at the Commonwealth games. 

Shujaa are in arguably the pool of death with bronze medallists South Africa, the US, and the Dark Horses Ireland in pool C.

Tactician Innocent Simiyu says the target is to be a top-six team at the end of the competition.

"First things first, we need to get out of the pool. In Rio four years ago, we finished 11th and now we need to come out of the pool and play in the quarters; from there we see where we end up,” he said.

Simiyu said the Olympics tournament is wide open, with teams not playing enough tournaments like the World Sevens Series because of the disruption due to Covid-19.

"I think the competition is wide open; teams have had a rhythm to play as many tournaments as possible, so everyone starts on the same level," he said.

Shujaa open their campaign against the US, followed by a tough tie against South Africa and closing out their preliminaries against Ireland.

On the three teams, Simiyu said they must watch for the US's twin attacking threats on the wings in Perry Baker and Carlin Isles.

"We need to close out space and match them physically. We have played twice this year in Madrid and we won both ties so we are quietly confident against them,” he noted.

Simiyu said South Africa present a formidable challenge as they have added a new dimension to their kicking game and attack.

"They have added variety to their game and will be a tough match for us,” he said.

Against Ireland, Shujaa need to bring physicality to neutralise the speed of the Irish, according to the coach.

"They are a dangerous side and we will have to mix our speed, athleticism and physicality to beat them."

The former captain added that preparation for the past six months has been better than that of the 2016 edition, despite the sport being ravaged by the global Covid crisis.

"We have played six tournaments—two each in Madrid, Dubai and Stellenbosch—where we have analysed all facets of play from kickoff, defence, attack, setpiece and our combinations," Simiyu said. 

Skipper and overall team captain Andrew Amonde relished the challenge of playing in the Olympics.

“It's the dream of any athlete to play at this level and the boys are fired up for the challenge,” Amonde said.

Meanwhile, Kenya Lionesses playing in their second Olympics face an acid test when they take on powerhouses New Zealand, Great Britain, and Russia.