NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 4- On form IF Djugardens forward Michael Olunga scored the winner as Harambee Stars shocked DR Congo with a 1-0 win in a friendly match in Lubumbashi on Tuesday night.
It was a shock defeat for the Florent Ibenge coached side preparing to face Libya in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday while it is a huge gain for Kenya beating a team placed 51st on the FIFA rankings worldwide and sixth in Africa.
Despite missing skipper Victor Wanyama, Kenya still showed superb fighting spirit, even when the hosts dominated for most of the match and created more clear-cut chances.
Wanyama could not make it for the friendly after missing a favorable flight from his base in North London and in his absence, Zesco United defender David ‘Calabar’ Owino took over the captaincy duties while Las Palmas’ Ismail Gonzalez took up the role in midfield, alongside Anthony Akumu.
Rama Salim making a return to the side after four years was handed a role behind the twin attacking pair of Jesse Were and Michael Olunga.
On his side, DR Congo coach Ibenge named a relatively strong side though some of his key players started on the bench.
Everton’s Yannick Bolasie, regular starting keeper Ley Matampi, left back Joyce Lomalisa and defender Marveille Bope all started from the bench.
Newcastle United defender Chancel Mbeba started as well as French based midfielder Remy Mulumba who turns for Gazélec Ajaccio.
All through the opening half, Jordan Botaka had given Aboud Omar a tough time on the left side of defense with his pace and trickery on the ball.
As early as the first minute, Botaka managed to break away from Omar, delivering a cross into the box which Brian Mandela nearly turned into his own net but Boniface Oluoch picked up with some good reflex.
Kenya had their first chance in the 13th minute when Michael Olunga found some space on the right, floated in a cross but Rama Salim’s connection went just wide.
The former Gor Mahia midfielder also had an effort in the 20th minute with a long range shot which went wide.
Mathare United’s Eric Johannah tried his luck with a free-kick from almost 40 yards out but Joel Kiassumbua in Congo’s goal made an easy catch.
Bolingi Mpangi had several good chances on the other side for Congo, but he could not hit the target.
In the 27th minute his diving header from Botaka after some little skill to nutmeg Jesse Were went wide while a minute later, his connecting shot from a Mulumba through ball was too weak to trouble Boniface Oluoch.
Eight minutes to the breather, Ibenge pulled out the misfiring Bolingi for Bollasie as he sought some punch in the attack line.
The Everton man’s runs brought a different dimension of attack for the ‘Red Devils’ and his combination play almost bore the home side’s first goal in the 44th minute but Firmin Mubele’s attempt with a header unmarked inside the box was awry.
At the start of the second half, Ibenge made two changes, bringing in in his first choice keeper Matampi for Kiassumbua while Lomalisa came on for Vital Nsimba.
Five minutes into the half, Stars had a decent chance with Salim breaking free on the right, but his cross from the weaker left foot went way over the bar with Olunga lurking inside the box.
In the 55th minute, Okumbi made his first change, bringing out Gonzalez for New York Cosmos man David Ochieng who slotted into midfield alongside Akumu, giving the Zesco man the freedom to move upfront and join in the attack.
Congo continued with their dominance and on the hour mark came close with Jacques Maghoma sending Mubele through, but the latter could only shoot into the side netting under pressure from Mandela.
Okumbi threw in his second dice, Paul Were coming on for Rama Salim.
It didn’t take him long to assert himself into the game with his pace and in the 66th minute, played a huge role in Olunga’s goal.
The winger who plies his trade in the Greek second tier took on a daunting run on the left before unleashing a shot that hit the upright with Olunga picking the rebound and slotting into the net.
Searching for a goal, Ibenge threw in another change five minutes after going down, Dody Lukebakio coming on for Paul Jose Mpoku.
The hosts continued pushing and Botaka continued his torment of Omar, but the final ball was always lacking.
With quarter of an hour left, the Charlton Athletic man wriggled inside the Kenya box before unleashing a stinger of a shot which Oluoch spilled, but the defense was well placed to clear.
Five minutes to the final whistle, Okumbi made his final change, handing Chemelil Sugar midfielder Victor Majid his national team debut coming in for Johannah, a change seeking to solidify the midfield and shut out spaces for the Congolese.
They kept pounding the Kenyan 18-yard area and came close again with three minutes left with Lukebakio curling a left-footed freekick inches above the bar.
Stars managed to guard their rare with Oluoch well protected, holding on for the vital morale boosting win.
Ibenge will have much to think about before they play Libya, but he will lay solace in the fact some of his star players like Hull City forward Diumerci Mbokani did not play the match.