Kenya’s chances of reaching the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals were dealt a major blow when Harambee Stars lost their second Group E match 1-2 to Chipolopolo of Zambia.
The result left Kenya reeling in third place with just one point behind Congo and Zambia who both have four. Stars started brightly with maverick Ayub Timbe causing the Zambian defenders problems on the left wing.
The first real chance of the game came Kenya’s way in the third minute when Michael Olunga intercepted Aaron Katebe’s pass on the right flank. The lanky Gor Mahia forward, however, skied his effort from the edge of the box under pressure from Chipolopolo’s celebrated defender Stoppila Sunzu.
The visitors then found their footing, enjoying bits of possession but Kenya looked dangerous with Timbe and Dennis Oliech showing terrific pace anytime Stars broke.
Olunga broke the deadlock in the 13th minute after he stretched high his right leg, poking the ball past an on rushing Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene to record his first goal in the senior national team.
Zambia then stepped up their search for an equaliser and Arnold Origi pulled a double-save in the 22nd minute to keep Kenya’s slim lead alive.
A hamstrung Paul Were limped off in the 26th minute to be replaced by Noah Wafula and Zambia cancelled Kenya’s lead within seconds of the substitute walking in through Collins Mbesuma who had all the time to chest down the ball in Kenya’s box before firing in. Winston Kulengo struck Zambia’s second three minutes to half-time, pouncing on a through ball from skipper Rainford Kalaba.
The 2012 African champions then employed time-wasting tactics as they carried their 1-2 lead to the break. Kenyan coach Bobby Williamson substituted Collins Okoth for Johanna Omolo after restart as Kenya went after a leveller.
Olunga was then denied a second goal by Sunzu who rose behind a beaten Mweene to clear his glancing header from the line. Williamson would then pull out Oliech for Wanga in the 65th minute as Kenya intensified their search for a second goal but the Zambians held fast, breaking play with a myriad of stoppages which Williamson described as ‘non- injuries’.
Kenya’s task of ending her 11-year absence from the continental premier soccer fiesta now depends on how well they perform in their remaining matches including away to Zambia and Guinea Bissau.
A disappointed Williamson still sounded optimistic of qualifying from the four remaining games. Congo lead the group on four points after hitting Guinea Bissau 4-2 away together with Zambia who are second on a lesser goal-count.