NAIROBI, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- Kenyans celebrated the end of a 15-year drought for the senior men's national team playing at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals after the continental soccer governing body CAF on Monday confirmed Harambee Stars had qualified for the showpiece.
Throughout the day, excited citizens of the east African nation poured on social media to hail the decision by CAF to guarantee Stars a place in the expanded 24-nation finals that will kick off at a yet to be determined country in June 2019.
"Congratulations Harambee Stars for qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. I assure you of my support and that of the government to facilitate and provide you with the necessary resources to ensure you are well prepared for the task ahead," President Uhuru Kenyatta posted on his Twitter.
Nick Mwendwa, the president of Football Kenya Federation (FKF), revealed on Friday that Kenya was through to the AFCON pending official communication from CAF that arrived on Monday afternoon.
Stars last played at the tournament at the Tunisia 2004 finals where the team made history when they won their first match at the showpiece, a 3-1 victory over Burkina Faso in their final group game.
However, it came a little too late as they crashed out yet again at the first hurdle after losing their opening matches 1-3 to Mali and 0-3 to Senegal who advanced to the quarters of the then 16-nation competition.
Following their qualification that came after CAF expelled Sierra Leone, whose federation Sierra Leone Football Association remains banned by world body FIFA, from the competition, the team is in line to receive over 50 million Kenyan shillings (490,000 U.S. dollars) from the country's vice president William Ruto.
Ahead of their qualifier against Ethiopia on October 14, Ruto promised Stars the cash and a new team bus and communication from his office told Xinhua he would make an announcement in due course on when the pledge will be delivered.
"Harambee Stars has made the entire country proud and they have exhibited true Kenyan spirit of hard work. The boys have against all odds achieved what they had set out to do," former FKF president Sam Nyamweya said in a statement.
"Looking back to their path, I feel happy because this is a team that we had laid foundation over five years ago when I was in office. Their achievement is a clear manifestation that with a good foundation we can achieve greater things," Nyamweya added.
Former Stars head coach Jacob Mulee who led the team to Tunisia 2004 backed the current side to go deeper into the competition as opposed to the time he was in charge.
"I went to Tunisia with three targets: win a match, score a goal in regulation time and make it into the second round. We managed to achieve two of the set targets and I will forever salute Titus Mulama for scoring our first ever AFCON goal against Mali," Mulee said.
He said the squad now is more complete than it has been in years, noting that he believes the team has what it takes to achieve what it did in 2004, if not more.
"There is a nice mix of young and experienced players and watching them at home against Ghana and Ethiopia last month was incredible. The determination they showed was great and if indeed we do qualify, I have no doubt that they will put on a good show," he added.
FKF communications director Barry Otieno told Xinhua they will outline a preparation program for the finals in the coming days.