Kenya overcame biased officiating in their Sunday afternoon 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Congo to record their first win under local boss Stanley Okumbi, the Harambee Stars battling from behind to beat the visiting Red Devils 2-1 at the Kasarani Stadium.
Mathare United striker Eric Johanna netted a second half winner after Ayub Timbe had canceled Prince Oniangue’s opener from the spot and although the victory was pointless as far as AFCON qualification is concerned, it will give the much-critized, almost loathed Harambee Stars the right momentum heading into future assignments and no doubt improve their rankings in the continental and global football scene.
Congo, 59th in the Fifa Rankings, controlled a huge chunk of the first half but once Stars got their goal, they ran rings around their opponents and could have won by a bigger margin.
The visitors began the match on a high with SC Reims forward Thievy Bifouma combining well with Fabrice Ondama but the latter’s effort was well gathered by Stars keeper Boniface Oluoch.
Early chances wide
The hosts created two quickfire chances with would-be goalscorer Johanna and Michael Olunga both coming close in the 5th and 6th minutes. Johanna skied his effort with a vintage effort from a lose ball outside the penalty area while Olunga connected an Musa Mohammed long ball with his wrong foot.
Congo poured on the pressure and were duly rewarded in the 17th minute when Las Palmas midfielder Ismail Gonzalez was adjudged to have fouled Ondama in the box. The resultant spot kick was converted by skipper Oniangue who checked on keeper Oluoch’s right with the keeper diving left.
Congo’s lead however lasted for only five minutes as Stars got their equalizer through winger Ayub Timbe.
The Belgium-based winger pounced on a hopeful long ball from keeper Oluoch, shrugged off his marker before rifling home on the bounce past an onrushing Congo keeper Christopher Mafoumbi.
Timbe should have got his second in the 34th minute but his effort was pushed wide by the tall Congolese keeper for a fruitless corner. Kenya time and again protested against set pieces awarded against them in dangerous positions and luckily, their visitors didn’t take any advantage, the teams going into the breather on level terms.
Kenya began the second half on a high with Francis Kahata coming close in the 59th minute before Okumbi made his first change, bringing in Antony Akumu for Gonzalez who seemed rocked by the penalty he gave away in the opening half. The Las Palmas midfielder-cum-defender didn’t look happy coming off, forcing Stars assistant coach Frank Ouna to give him a small talking.
The substitution seemed just about right though with the Zesco United man helping neutralize the physical Congo midfield.
Goal scorer Oniangue was replaced by Igor Nganga as the Congolese also went for fresher legs in the midfield.
Johanna nets winner
Kenya looked dangerous on the wings and got their second in the 67th minute, Wanyama spotting Johanna deep from his own half and the Mathare United winger dinking past Mafoumbi to send the fairly large crowd at Kasarani into frenzy.
The visitors almost equalized a minute later but the alert Boniface Oluoch dived low to stop a Bifouma effort. Stanley Okumbi made a second substitution in the 73rd minute, bringing in Paul Were, who scored in Brazaville, for Johanna and Ali Abondo for Timbe who turned in a man-of-the-match performance.
The desperate Congo side then resulted to using long balls which were well dealt with by the Kenya defence, the likes of Olunga tracking back to help their defence while the defence, ably led by David ‘Calabar’ Owino and Brian Mandela and supported by sensational rookie Eric Ouma and his club captain Mohammed stood tall.
Despite the win, Kenya cannot qualify for the 2017 spectacle but they ruined the party for the Congolese who trudged off the pitch not knowing what had hit them. Guinea Bissau, the Group’s underdogs, were left celebrating progress to their first ever AFCON appearance with a game to spare after stunning Rwanda’s Chipolopolo 3-2 on Saturday.
The last game of the qualifiers will be held in early September but will be a mere formality. Kenya, still bottom of the group with four points, will travel to Zambia as Congo host Bissau.
As far as Kenya is concerned, the result will remove a bit of pressure off the back of Okumbi who had not won any of his opening four matches since succeeding Scotsman Bobby Williamson as head coach at the end of February 2016.
Kenya Starting XI: 1 Boniface Oluoch, 2 Musa Mohammed, 15 David Owino, 5 Brian Mandela, 21 Eric Ouma, 12 Victor Wanyama, 13 Ismail Gonzalez, 10 Eric Johanna, 8 Francis Kahata, 14 Michael Olunga, 7 Ayub Timbe
Subs: 18 David Okello (GK), 4 Eugene Asike, 6 Anthony Akumu, Ali Abondo, 11 Jesse Were, 16 Paul Were, 3 Aboud Omar
Congo Starting XI: 1Christopher Mafoumbi, 2 Francis Nganga, 3 Marvin Baudry, 5 Mael Lepicien, 6 Ndecil Ndoki, 7 Prince Oniangue, 8 Delvin Ndinga, Fode Dore, 11 Fabrice Ondama 13 Thievy Bifouma, 18 Dikamona
Subs: 16 Pavel Ndela 4 igor Ngana 9 Vinny Ibara 12 Bouka Moutou 14 Massengo Jordon 15 Malonga Dominique 17 Malonga Chris
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