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21st of October 2018

Sport



Kenya’s Gonzalez living his dream, rallies all Kenyans to fight for a place at AFCON 2019 in Cameroon.

By Robin Toskin:

164

Thursday, September 13th 2018 at 07:58 GMT +3 | Football Ismael Said Athuman González (right) of Kenya challenges Thomas Partey of Ghana during their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier match at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi on September 08, 2018 [Courtesy]

Spain-born Kenyan midfielder Ismael Gonzalez is living his dream of playing for Harambee Stars and hopes qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations should cap a fairytale reconnection with his roots.

Gonzalez, born in Gran Canaria, Spain, to Kenyan father Said Ali Athuman and Spanish mother Mercedes González in 1995 has now played seven times for the national football team — Harambee Stars.

“It has been better than what I expected, I feel proud of representing my country and thankful for having this chance,” Gonzalez said after a sterling display in Kenya’s identical 1-0 victories over Ghana and Malawi.

The 23-year-old, who is back to Las Palmas B team after a loan spell at Fuenalbrada in Spain, attributes his quick integration to the reception from his teammates.

“They have made me a part of the group as soon as I got here. I’ve learnt some words, basics as “please”, “thank you” and really feel appreciated.

“We usually speak in English, although sometimes they teach me a bit of Swahili,” Gonzalez told Standard Sports yesterday before departing for Spain.

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Up until 2015, Gonzalez harboured hopes of one day playing on a bigger stage, particularly at international level, but donning the Spanish national team colours was always going to be a long-shot.

“Inside me, though, I always felt if a chance to play for the country of my father came, I would grab it with both hands,” the midfielder said.

His father’s chance encounter with former Harambee Stars defender Gabriel Olang triggered what would be a retracing of his roots back to Kenya. Gonzalez attributes his quick integration to the reception from his teammates [Courtesy]

“Most football players dream about playing for their countries. So definitely this has been a dream come true for me. Once I got the call up in 2016, I did not think twice,” Gonzalez recalls.

Former Harambee Stars coach Stanley Okumbi thrust the youngster on the international scene when he capped him in Kenya’s 1-1 draw with Sudan on May 31, 2016.

Gonzalez replaced Joseph Mbugi in the second half and has since played six more times for Kenya.

“My parents are following my career closely and they are proud of my work in and out of the pitch this far,’ he says.

Being a defensive midfielder, always the man to do the dirty work in the middle of the park, it was no surprise his fifth game against Central Africa Republic played in Morocco on March 27 this year saw him sent off in the 3-2 defeat.

He returned to face Ghana on Saturday in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match at Kasarani and put up a stellar show, which he says is a confidence boost.

“The victory against Ghana makes me feel motivated to play more and more for Kenya. We must now be focused.

“We know how to play, we must be together as a team, working hard and of course we can be there,” Gonzalez said when asked about Kenya’s chances of making it to Cameroon next year.

Group F is wide open with Ghana, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Kenya all in on three points.

Two teams qualify from each group for the continental finals to be staged in Cameroon next year.

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