By Steve Ayoo (@Steifmaster88)
Kenya’s dreams of making it back to the Africa Cup of Nations in over a decade came closer to being realised after they thumped visiting Ethiopia 3-0 at a choke-full Kasarani Stadium to consolidate top spot in their group.
Filthy first half strikes from Michael Olunga and man-of-the-match Eric Johanna, and a second half penalty from captain Victor Wanyama gave Stars a thoroughly deserved victory in front of perhaps the biggest crowd that any of the local boys have ever played in front.
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The Government of Kenya had made entrance to the stadium free in a bid to help the 12th man push Stars past the line and the result was almost catastrophic.
The gates were scheduled to close at 2pm, that is two hours before kickoff, but were close an hour earlier due to a massive turn out.
Stars got the crowd going with a storming start with Johanna and Eric Ouma, pushed to the left wing rather than his accustomed fullback position, flying down the channels as Olunga made himself a nuisance to the visiting backline.
Kenya were almost gifted a perfect start when a whipped third minute cross from Johanna was wickedly intercepted by Ethiopia defender Anteneh Tesfaye who was lucky to see the ball roll out for a corner and not roll in for an own goal.
Seven minutes later, Ouma was at the end of a good chance after Olunga harried the Ethiopian defence and the ball broke to the winger-cum-defender whose arrowed shot towards goal missed Samson Asefa’s far post by healthy inches.
Ethiopia managed to contain the quick fires and had silenced the raucous home crowd at the quarter hour mark as they retained the ball with Gatoch Panom especially taking control of things in midfield.
However, there was little they could do to stop Olunga’s worldie halfway into the half.
The Kashiya Reysol hit man collected a ball down the left from Johanna. From the angle and distance, the Ethiopian defence, almost justifiably, didn’t spot much danger.
But what ensued was pure magic.
Olunga shifted the ball to his favoured left leg, wrapped his boot around the ball and swivelled a thunderous curling effort that found the far right of Asefa’s goal.
Cue in pandemonium. It was a goal worth paying every penny to watch, let alone gaining free entrance.
‘Olunga! Olunga! Olunga!’ The crowd belted out almost in cue.
With a spring on their step and the crowd at their loudest, Kenya set off again.
Johanna was tearing down the right almost at will. And it was the Sweden-based midfielder who provided the next goal just five minutes later as he rasped home gloriously a fine cross from Ouma who had gotten the beating of his marker Mulualem Mesfen.
2-0 and the dream for 2019 Africa Nations Cup seemed a reality even as the referee blew for half time.
The sucker punch came in the 67th minute of the game after Johanna was clipped inside the box to win a penalty.
Olunga wanted it, Johanna must have fancied bit captain Wanyama prevailed, the Spurs man sending Asefa the wrong way to make it 3-0.
All the three goalscorers would exit the scene to a standing ovation before the final whistle, Wanyama and Johanna via injuries while Olunga was subbed for Allan Wanga for a deserved rest.
The result means Kenya will qualify for the 2019 showpiece in Yaounde, Cameroon, should football governing body Fifa uphold its decision to ban Kenya’s Group F opponents Sierra Leone for government interference.
Should the Leone Stars win their appeal, then Kenya just need a home win against them to make their return since 2004.
Sebastien Migne’s Stars, top of the group with 7 points, have two games to go, at home to Sierra Leone and away to Ghana who they beat 1-0 last month.