I (Jamie) had the opportunity to go to the Kenya/Namibia World Cup qualifying soccer match last Saturday. Those of you that know me know that this has long been a dream of mine. Not necessarily to see Kenya and Namibia play, but to attend an international soccer match in another country. A group of us were able to get tickets to the game for 200 ksh (less than $3). The game was incredible…well the experience was incredible…the actual play of the game left a bit to be desired. It was an exciting game with lots of action and a lot of scoring opportunities, however it was a bit sloppy and at times was needlessly flashy. It was a different style of soccer than I am used to. It almost reminded me of “And 1” soccer (if there were such a thing), in that it seemed to be more important to make your defender look bad than to do something of actual value. I must say though that the Kenyan fans seemed to love these needlessly flashy plays, more so than the actual well organized plays. Example, a player would juggle the ball on his head 4 consecutive times while walking down the out of bounds line to the roaring cheers of 30,000 fans, only to lose the ball out of bounds. OR a player would make an incredible move to completely throw his defender off…crowd goes crazy…player adds a couple of more moves which gives the defender time to recover, and in the end they are both in the exact same place they started. There were some quality plays throughout the game, but all in all it was a bit sloppy. Either way, the atmosphere at Kasarani Stadium was awesome. It could be best pictured if you imagine a party of about 30,000 people held in the stands of a stadium. The Kenyans had cheers, songs, makeshift drums and instruments. It was a great atmosphere to watch a game and a lot of fun. There were actually 54,000 tickets sold, but there was a riot at the front gate before the game so only 30,000 made it inside. Lucky for us, we missed the riot.
The most important aspect was that Kenya won the game 1-0, from a penalty kick by Jamal Mohammed. This puts Kenya at the top of their qualification group for World Cup 2010 in South Africa. All Kenya needs to do is beat or draw with Guinea and they are through to the next stage. Even if they lose, they still have a chance to go through. This is huge for Kenya because to go to the next round will present the opportunity to earn a slot in the Africa Nations Cup, which Kenya has only qualified for 5 times in the past. It will also keep their World Cup hopes alive, even though it is still a long, long shot. Either way, Kenya has never qualified for the World Cup so this is very exciting for the country. To make it to the next round would also guarantee that one of the top African teams (Ivory Coast, Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon) could be coming to Nairobi in March to face the Kenya Harambee Stars in the next round. If this happens, I’ll be there.