James Magayi @magayijim
Kenya’s dream of heading to Cameroon next year for her first Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) appearance since 2004 moved an inch closer after Harambee Stars ground a scoreless draw away to Walia Ibex of Ethiopia in Bahir dar last evening.
Harambee Stars now lead Group F on four points, one ahead of Ghana and Ethiopia after world governing body FIFA banned Sierra Leone last week, changing group permutations in Kenya’s advantage. Victory over Ethiopia next Sunday will see Sebastian Migne’s team break the 14-year duck and play in the Afcon next June.
Stars’ display in Bahir dar was ugly at best, a far cry from what they put on show against Ghana last month as a second half gamble of resting Eric Johanna and pushing Wanyama up field to supplement attack backfired grossly.
Having sensed a frailty in Stars, the hosts, buoyed by a chanting 60,000 army of fans clad in Rasta colours of red, gold and green went for the kill, camping in Kenya’s half most of the game with a barrage of attacks.
Their blunt attack, however, squandered the numerous opportunities hence giving Stars a huge advantage ahead of their return leg at Kasarani next Sunday.
Sebastian Migne made two changes to the team that upset Ghana 1-0, drafting in Maritzburg United defender Brian Mandela at the heart of defence in place of the suspended Joash Onyango. Skipper Wanyama reclaimed his central midfield role thereby relegating Spain-based Ismael Gonzalez to the bench.
Stars looked tactical in the first half, exhibiting a rather deliberate lack of ambition that worked well, aiding them to tame the skilful Walia Ibex forwards.
Despite being pegged back, Stars had most and the best of chance during the first half, three scoring opportunities wasted by Michael Olunga, Ovella Ochieng and Eric Johanna.
Johanna should have scored when teed up on the left with just goalkeeper Samson Asefa to beat. Johanna tried to curl the ball low past Asefa but steered his effort wide and let Ethiopia off lightly in the 25th minute. Olunga had earlier shot feebly from almost the same angle but under intense pressure when Johanna played him through with a clever ball.
However, a tactical substitution in the second half that saw Johanna replaced by Gonzalez backfired as Wanyama, who moved up field to supplement attack, proved ineffective.