NAIROBI, September 7- The headlines in local media on Monday summed the mood of a nation as its beloved national football team, Harambee Stars, slumped to a 2-1 loss in their 2017 AFCON qualifier on Sunday.
Kenya Collapse, The Standard screamed on their back page banner adding, loss to Zambia leaves Stars’ fans disappointed, Williamson promises to fight on.
Fellow dailies, Nation went a touch smoother leading with Harambee Stars flatter to deceive with the kicker reading, Olunga scores early goal but Zambia rally to claim crucial win at packed Nyayo Stadium.
The Star led with Harambee Stress with the small headline adding Chipolopolo dim Stars in their second tie of Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Capital Sport offers five lessons Kenya learned from another dispiriting result for a country that can still salvage the dream of playing in the Equatorial Guinea finals in 2017.
Football games are not won on match-day
When Kenya gallantry held Congo Brazzaville to a credible 1-1 draw to launch their bid, it should have been the perfect launchpad to step up preparations for the Zambia clash.
However, the chronic practice of a syndrome known locally as ‘Roho Juu’ (playing with belief and hope) set in as Football Kenya Federation put in place preparations befitting a Sunday pub team match as opposed to a crucial AFCON qualifier.
The visiting Zambians started their campaign with what was roundly condemned at home as a sterile 0-0 draw against group minnows Guinea Bissau but in the intervening period, they got their act together to come to Nairobi and grab three points.
After Bissau, Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) immediately clicked to action, organising a two-month camp for local based players with their domestic top flight forced to tailor to Chipolopolo’s needs.
Four of those, forward Winstone Kalengo (Zesco United), midfielder Jack Chirwa (Green Buffaloes) and defensive pair Aaron Katebe (FC Platinum) and Benedict Chipeshi (Red Arrows) formed the cornerstone of the side supplemented by their foreign based stars.
Interim head coach George Lwandamina who also manages MTN-FAZ Premier League side Zesco United had enough time to get his players ready as opposed to his opposite number, Bobby Williamson who submitted a list of 15 home based and an equal number of exported talent in his preliminary squad three weeks to the clash.
Williamson only got both sets on Tuesday and despite Kenya having what would qualify as a star-studded squad on the day, they could not match the well grilled Zambians who completed a come-from-behind victory in a packed away stadium.
The Scottish boss started with Gor Mahia pair, Michael Olunga and Collins Okoth upfront and midfield and Thika United’s Dennis Odhiambo at the back as the only local talent on show in a patchy display from the hosts who played like a collection of individuals.
Discipline is wanting in Stars
A photo circulating in social media where Harambee Stars are seen arriving for the match in slippers and slip-ons without any semblance of proper kit for a match of such magnitude best explains the laissez faire attitude Kenya went about the game.
Key Stars players made rounds to local television channels to read news and interviews that ran well past 10pm local time on Friday and match-day eve, sparing them little time for ample rest and concentration.
Reports claimed players had not been paid allowances and those who came in from foreign leagues had to pay their own air travel, with FKF promising to offset all dues on Monday- hardly ideal motivation.
Add to the potent mix lurid allegations of debauchery at the team hotel and you have a toxic mix that showed management from the top was lacking and Williamson is not in control of his squad.
It was always going to end in disappointment.
Poor tactical execution
With no formal system with monitoring how foreign-based players are faring in their clubs, Williamson went on defensive mode, opting for two sitting midfielders in captain Victor Wanyama and Gor Mahia’s Collins Okoth.
From the onset, Stars overran their opponents and got the opener courtesy of a defensive mix up in the 12th minute through Olunga but having weathered the storm, the Chipolopolo started running rings around the midfield particularly, in the left channel.
It was at that point that Williamson’s tactics started to unravel as Lawrence Olum who plies his trade in Malaysia looked like a disaster waiting to happen any time Kalengo, Rainford Kalaba (captain) and veteran forward Collins Mbesuma approached him.
It took them a dozen minutes to get level when Mbesuma fed Kalengo who turned and fired in without much opposition with Olum missing at a time when Stars were down to 10-men after the departure of injured winger, Paul Were, the hero of Congo.
Gambling on the fitness of a man who is yet to play for his new Greek club, AEK Kalloni cost Williamson dear since inside half and hour, he had lost the player and a priceless lead.
Were’s replacement, Noah Wafula went on to have a pathetic game, failing to control the ball and making Stars light in the wings and it did not take long for Kalengo to return the favour to Mbesuma to complete the turn around before the breather.
By the time the more attack minded Johanna Omolo came on in the second half to add more thrust, the match was already slipping away as Zambia resorted to time wasting and a solid back-line to preserve their lead.
The wisdom to start with record scorer, Denis Oliech, who has seen little action since leaving AJ Ajaccio with no midfield to supply him the ball saw him isolated upfront as Olunga tracked back to try and get it and his substitute, Allan Wanga, who is yet to get started at Tanzania’s Azam after bereavement hardly made an impression.
With panic setting in, Stars started lumping long balls forward towards the end, making it easy for Zambia to see out the game as creativity disappeared with toothless domination from the hosts.
Poor leadership on display
With FKF sub-branch, branch and national elections looming, incumbent president, Sam Nyamweya commissioned two large banners on the pitch perimeter boldly declaring, ‘Join the winning team, Sam Nyamweya for President’.
As he sat in the VIP dais watching the game, what was aimed at garnering him support for a second term turned into another damaging PR disaster when angry fans brought the banners down and set them ablaze.
Unmoved, Nyamweya sat expressionless and unperturbed as another sorry chapter in Kenyan football unfolded with his latest attempt to endear himself as the man to lead Kenyan football to greater heights literally went up in flames.
Three seats from his, FAZ president and Zambia legend, Kalusha Bwalya who is three decades younger, was animated throughout, cheering every completed pass, admonishing any mistake and communicating with his bench below as his side grabbed maximum points.
If anything, it was a brutal demonstration of the gulf in management, the archaic versus modern, retrogressive versus progressive and the sooner Nyamweya’s reign ends, the sooner Kenyan football will start its protracted road to recovery.
Fans still love their Stars
Whether Kenyans placed loftier ambitions than reality in expecting to beat Zambia or the country was in feel good factor after the athletics team topped the world in Beijing, one this was evident, football is still the opium of local masses.
It is a pity the well packed Nyayo Stadium celebrated for only 12 minutes before home fans were taken through another nail being cruelly hammered in Harambee Stars’ qualification coffin.
Unless a change of leadership at the top of the local football tree forces better organisation, the long wait to feature in the Nations Cup that stretches from 2004 is set to continue.
Former Prime Minister and opposition chief, Raila Odinga, famously said ‘Punda amechoka‘ (the mule is tired) at the height of insecurity and judging by the sullen faces that emptied Nyayo in almost studio silence, it will be hard to sell Stars to the public after what transpired on Sunday.
Everything Kenyan football needs to succeed is in place, television money, willing corporate sponsors, talent and skill but the game itself continues to be a template of mismanagement and hopelessness.
If these symptoms persist, tired fans will vote with their feet and keep away from the mess, a fact not lost on FKF top honchos who looked desolate as Zambia exposed their ineptitude by getting their basics right with an entire continent watching.