James Magayi @magayijim
Two exquisite goals in the opening half of a high stakes Africa Cup of Nations qualifier and a second half penalty were sufficient for Harambee Stars to beat Ethiopia 3-0 at Kasarani stadium yesterday.
Stars shone when it mattered. Kenya needed victory to ensure passage from Group F to the grandest continental football showpiece and Kenya got an emphatic one. Two marvelous first-half strikes from Michael Olunga and Eric Johanna supplemented by skipper Victor Wanyama’s spot kick sent Kenya top of Group F.
In the unlikeliest of angles and pressed by opposition defence, Olunga turned partially and curled the ball with his left foot neatly into the far corner of the net, leaving Ethiopia’s goalkeeper Samson Asefa gobsmacked. Kasarani stadium, packed to the rafters ruptured.
The game had been tight up until then with Ethiopia’s ‘tiki-taka’ (swift passing) causing problems for Stars. The hosts had mostly relied on breaks. Johanna had the most promising of chances that went Kenya’s way, two half volleys from an angle inside Ethiopia’s box. Both were blocked by a tenacious defence.
Five minutes after Olunga broke the deadlock, Johanna compounded Ethiopia’s woes with a point blank bullet of a shot that sent Stars to the break comfortably ahead.
Johanna was again instrumental in the third goal as he was fouled in the box leading to the penalty that Wanyama dispatched comfortably.
Coach Sébastien Migne tweaked his team a bit, deploying Eric Ouma and Johanna on the left and right sides of midfield respectively with Francis Kahata playing in traditional number 10. Ovella Ochieng was relegated to the bench.
Buoyed by an effervescent crowd led by Deputy President William Ruto, Kenya played with purpose, defending resolutely when needed and attacking with zeal.
Ethiopia were happy to possess with Gatoch Panom stringing fluid passes. They, however, failed to find openings in a defence marshalled by Brian Mandela and Musa Mohammed.
The visitors returned after the break with greater zeal, pinning Kenya down but a well-drilled Migne’s squad held their own. Kenya put the game beyond Ethiopia with Wanyama’s well-taken penalty but Olunga, Dennis Odhiambo and Ismael González could have extended the lead.
Stars are set for a bumper cash rewards after Ruto promised them Sh50 million while Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko made true his promise by handing the team Sh3 million immediately after the match.