NAIROBI, Kenya, September 6- Harambee Stars’ qualification for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations hangs in the balance after losing 1-0 to Mozambique in Maputo on Sunday.
Mamba captain Tico Tico capped a sublime performance infront of his fanatical home crowd with a superbly taken strike after outpacing the Kenya rearguard and latching onto a long ball to beat in form Stars keeper Willis Ochieng to keep alive their hopes of making it to Angola next year.
Sunday’s loss was the last thing Stars needed especially with a daunting trip to Carthage looming where they will play Tunisia on October 10.
The result will also compound Antoine Hey’s position as national tactician especially after revelations before the match that the government could not continue to meet his wages.
Stars are now bottom of Group B with three points while the Mambas move up to third with four.
Mozambique dominated the first half with eye candy football which had Stars on the backfoot during the first period.
The triumvirate of Tico, Dominguez and Dario had alarm bells constantly ringing in Kenyan ranks but the heroics of Ochieng and left back George Owino kept them at bay.
Ochieng justified his selection ahead of Norwegian based Arnold Origi by putting his body on the line time and time again.
His commitment to the cause showed twenty minutes in the match as he collided with Dario while gathering a dangerous cross into his area.
Stars’ hunger to go forward failed to materialize in the opening stages as the Mambas continued to lay siege on the Kenyan goal.
Kenya’s first foray into enemy territory resulted into corner but in materialized into nothing after captain Musa Otieno’s connection with McDonald Mariga’s cross went wide off the mark.
That seemed to be the spark Kenya needed as Dennis Oliech showed no signs of a lingering ankle injury to set off through the heart of the Mamba defence and provide a square ball onto the onrushing Mariga but the Parma midfielder’s long range effort was parried over the bar by Mozambican keeper Kapango.
Soon after Oliech set off another mazy run to leave the last Mamba defender in his wake but was quickly closed down when he got into the hosts penalty box.
The hosts continued to stamp their authority with some trademark one touch football and accurate passing which had the stars chasing shadows.
Stars dodged several bullets most notably in the 33rd minute when Tico put the ball in the net but was ruled offside.
Whatever Hey told his charges during the interval seemed to work as Stars opened the second half by going forward with purpose.
Oliech and Mariga caused their hosts problems in the midfield with good interplay but their long range shots failed to threaten the opposition goal.
Patrick Oboya and Austin Makacha paid for their failure to make their presence known when they were substituted by Victor Mugabe and Allan Wanga respectively.
The Mamba’s rediscovered their first half form after taking the lead and continued to press on the Kenyan goal.
That lead was almost extended 12 minutes from time when Dairo crept up on the side of the Stars defence but his shot went over the woodwork.