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Olunga brace tames DR Congo’s Leopards

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Harambee Stars striker Michael Olunga spreads his arms in celebration after scoring Kenya’s first goal against DR Congo in an international friendly match at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on march 26, 2017. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

MACHAKOS, Kenya, Mar 26- Birthday boy Michael Olunga continued his fine run of form hitting a brace as Harambee Stars beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-1 in an international friendly match at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on Sunday evening.

Olunga, much criticized for a move to the Chinese Super League has answered his critics in superb fashion with two goals in three matches while head coach Stanley Okumbi’s unbeaten record stands at 10 matches with the Sunday victory being a second against the Central African Leopards in a year.

Former Chelsea man Gael Kakuta had equlized for the visitors with a superb freekick on the hour mark, but Olunga tapped in with 20 minutes to go to seal the victory.

From the team that played Uganda in midweek, Okumbi brought in skipper Victor Wanyama, his deputy David Owino, David Ochieng, Jockins Atudo and goalkeeper Boniface Oluoch.

He lined up what seemed more of a defensive unit, with Ochieng, usually a central defender partnering Wanyama in midfield. Brian Mandela and Owino were at the heart of defense with Atudo and Aboud Omar plying either flank.

Ulinzi Stars’ Samwel Onyango who earned his debut in midweek against Uganda and performed well received full backing from Okumbi and was handed his second cap, starting on the offensive right.

DR Congo’s florent Ibenge started a strong team with Newcastle United defender Chancel Mbemba skippering the side which also included African Cup of Nations top scorer Junior Kabananga, Fulham’s Neeskens Kebano and French based midfielder Remmy Mulumba.

It was the visitors who started brighter and faster and they came close early with Neskeens Kebano’s surprise freekick from midfield almost catching Boniface Oluoch by surprise, but lucky for him the ball looped slightly over the bar.

After recovering from the slow start, Kenya got straight into the thick of things and it was that man Olunga again who came through with the goal.

Defender Mandela powered from deep in his defensive position, skipped past a few Congolese players and put Olunga through on the left with the striker cutting in and shooting past Joel Kiassumbua with his weaker right foot.

Harambee Stars’ David Ochieng takes on DR Congo’s goal scorer Gael Kakuta during an international friendly match at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on march 26, 2017. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

It was an end to end affair though with DR Congo also giving in as much. Kebano who had been a thorn in midfield came close in the 18th minute but his freekick from the right after curling over the wall hit the side netting.

The Leopards had a shout for a penalty waved away in the 24th minute when Kenya struggled to clear the lines from a Kebano corner with the Congolese protesting that Kabananga’s goal bound header was handled by the Kenyan back line.

Kenya had three chances back to back in the 32nd minute. First, Olunga broke through on the left from an Onyango through pass with his shot saved by Kiassumba’s feet. Onyango had a chance to himself with his curling effort from distance ripped over for a corner.

From the resultant set piece, Owino found the ball on the right after it was started short, faked a cross to sweep away his marker but Jesse Were’s bouncing header from the resultant cross went wide with Wanyama screaming for the ball at the edge of the box.

Four minutes on the turn, Bolingi Mpangi came inches close to drawing his side level but his well sprung header from a Kebano cross went just wide.

Two minutes to the break, Kabananga tested Oluoch with a ferocious shot from inside the box, but the Gor Mahia shot stopper proved equal to the task putting a strong arm to the effort turning it behind for a corner.

At the start of the second half, Onyango in his second cap for the national team should have spiced it up with a goal after being put through in the box, but Mbemba managed to race back and pulled an important tackle to knock off the goal just as the Ulinzi man prepared to pull the trigger.

Harambee Stars captain Victor Wanyama tracks down DR Congo’s Neskeens Kebano during an international friendly match at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on march 26, 2017. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

In the 55th minute, Wanyama also had a chance but his shot from an Olunga cut back was parried away by the Congolese keeper.

The visitors drew level on the half hour mark when Kakuta took responsibility after being fouled at the edge of the box by Brian Mandela to curl the ball over the wall and into the bottom left of Oluoch’s goal.

The equalizer inspired Ibenge’s men and Kakuta thought he had the second but his effort was ruled offside. An unusual error by Mandela almost gifted the Congolese with a second when his square pass found Kabananga at the edge of the box but the striker’s effort was deflected for a corner.

Olunga hit the winner when he rushed into the box to meet an Onyango cross, tapping home unmarked.

Jockins Atudo who had been drifted to left back after the withdrawal of Aboud Omar for Osborne Monday came into Kenya’s rescue with 12 minutes left, clearing the ball off the line from a Bolingi effort after a defensive mistake.

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