How ex-Stars defender ‘Jojo’ paid heavy price
When Harambee Stars meet the Hawks of Mali in the first leg of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers today, it shall rekindle memories of their last meeting 16 years ago.
One of the memorable episodes is that the match almost ended the career of Kenyan defender George “Jojo” Waweru through a serious injury.
Most of the current national under-20 players were in kindergarten while those in the under-17 cadre were still in their nappies.
It was the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations match and the setting was the 45,000-seater El Menzah Stadium with Stars defecse at sixes and sevens, trying to contain the marauding Mali strikers led by Fredrick Kanoute who would later be named the 2007 African Footballer of the Year.
At that juncture, Stars back-line that was weaved around Waweru, his peer and former classmate at Ofafa Jericho High School Musa “Otero”Otieno, Adam Shaban and Issa Kassim, was huffing and puffing as Kanoute and company threw raid after raid at Kenyan goalmouth.
As fate would have it, it was Waweru amongst the quartet who was successful to neutralize the incursions of Kanoute, having stopped him on his tracks in the 19th minute when he was just about to pull the trigger on unsuspecting Stars goalkeeper Duncan “Dunco” Ochieng’.
Then the worst happened in the 33rd minute when Waweru, apparently thinking it would be routine to countervail the fleet-footed Kanoute who was an aerial threat, paid dearly for his action when he fractured a bone on his neck as he was trying to contain the dangerman.
Speaking to People Sport at his residence in Ofafa Maringo Estate in Nairobi, Waweru, who is now 41, reminisces about the fateful day as if it happened yesterday.
Considered one of Kenya’s best defenders, if not the very best of his generation, Waweru said he knew Kanoute’s strong points and as such, he had devised a way to cut him down to size.
“I knew Kanoute thrived on high balls and I was determined not to give him a sniff at our goalmouth. I then tumbled and was in excruciating pain,” said Waweru.
It was the incident that led to many believe that Waweru was indeed an epitome of what it means to hold the defence together and especially when facing a troublesome striker like Kanoute who, just like him, has retired from the beautiful game.
The incident also reminded many of the 1982 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup final in Uganda between the Stars and Uganda Cranes when Kenyan legend John “Bobby”Ogolla injured, treated and resumed play in a match which saw Harambee Stars win 5-3 on post-match penalties.
In Tunisia, Waweru’s case was different from Ogolla’s as after braving the injury in the first half, he could not continue with action in the second stanza and was subsequently replaced by Philip Opiyo but still, Stars defenders found Mali frontliners a tad too much with the game ending 3-1 in favour of the West Africans.
Waweru was later ruled out of action for three months while recovering before resuming action with professional stints in Sweden.