World Cup goalkeepers rekindle memories of Kenya's best past custodians

by Ben Ochieng

NAIROBI, July 4 (Xinhua) -- Superb performances of goalkeepers at 2014 Brazil World Cup has rekindled memories of two of the best goalies Kenya has ever produced.

James Siang'a is a great personality. For 13 years, he kept goal for Kenya and after that he has been coach in Kenya and abroad.

He has undertaken numerous assignments as both head coach and manager for the Kenyan national team, Harambee Stars between 1999 and 2000, and various club sides.

As a player, Siang'a was known for his strength of character and determination. He played for Kenya at the 1972 Africa Cup of Nations.

"When he was appointed interim coach of Harambee Stars in May 2000, his friends and well-wishers could not be forgiven for not knowing whether to send him congratulations or condolences owing to the fact that he was taking over the driver's seat of a bus that had long been consigned to the scrap heap," Mathew Owino, former Kenyan national team goalkeeper commented.

But every Kenyan knew just how a long shot that feat was, and sooner rather than later Siang'a, who is now in his 70s, found the whites in his hair multiplying at an accelerating pace after calls for his rendezvous with the hangman hitting high decibels.

Fortunately Siang'a knew all that. In 1979, he and a Pole named Gregory Palakov had managed to craft together a winning team that seemed destined - against brilliant opposition - to lift the East and Central Africa Senior Challenge Cup in Nairobi.

"With each victory and each step closer to the title, the songs of praise grew louder and passionate. Then at the very last hurdle against Malawi, Harambee Stars faltered in the finals and was dispatched into the trash can," recalls Festus Pedo, a fan who was present during the match.

From the stands of City Stadium, fans vented their spleen on the bench: "Siang'a and coach must go home!" It was hard to believe that only two months earlier, these men were on the threshold of canonization.

However in 2013, the former goalkeeper had two of his toes removed following complications arising from diabetes after an operation during which he was hospitalized.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Mahmoud Abbas reigned supreme as the best goalkeeper in the East and Central African region.

Because of his uncanny ability to save penalty kicks, Abbas had veteran KBC football commentator Leonard Mambo Mbotela in a frenzy of excitement as the presenter relayed the news of Abbas' exploits to wonder-struck Kenyan fans.

Known for his charisma and flamboyance, Abbas not only saved penalty kicks, but he also stopped the efforts of some of Africa's best strikers.

He had an irritating habit of clapping for and laughing at disappointed forwards whose shots he had just grabbed or parried.

For this commentators from neighboring Tanzania named him "golkipa mchawi" (the wizard goalkeeper). He was also a very able captain and led Harambee Stars for more than five years.

"His strength was almost equal between his powerful hands and loud mouth. After making a save he would hurl a ball way beyond the center line and get it accurately to his forwards," John Okwara, his former teammate said.

At the same time he loudly marshaled his goal line and fans could hear him clearly giving out orders especially when the defenders had to form a line to block a free-kick's line of fire.

Quite clearly, Abbas appeared on the scene too early for his talents. Had he been playing today, Abbas would be commanding huge wages in the lucrative European leagues now brimming full with African talent.

In Brazil, German keeper Manuel Neur and some of his lesser-known counterparts have stolen the show, with Mexico's Guillermo Ochoa, Costa Rica's Keylor Navas and U.S.'s Tim Howard among the notable outstanding goalkeepers.