NAIROBI, Kenya, March 26- Inter Milan ace, MacDonald Mariga stepped up when Kenya needed a hero, slamming in an 88th minute rocket to sink Angola 2-1 in a tense 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on Saturday.
However, the rush of adrenaline in the aftermath of his sweet strike earned the midfielder a second caution and subsequent red card ruling him out of Kenya’s next match away to the same opponents and tempering what was a monumental triumph that lifted Stars to four points in Group J to return their campaign on track.
But the 30,000 who trooped to Nyayo National Stadium and millions watching at home will not think about the blow for now as Harambee Stars snapped their winless streak at the qualifiers stretching to the back end of 2009.
It was De Javu for Angola who lost here 2-1 in their last match against the Stars. Only returning goalkeeper, Arnold Origi’s heroics in the first half stood between them and racing clear of their hosts when he repelled chance after chance to leave the home supporters hushed into silence.
The match started with the home side racing quickly to Angola’s right flank and Congolese born winger Bob Mugalia, who flickered on and off the game, sent a dangerous looping ball towards the shaky Luis Joao’s goal but there were no takers.
Joao almost gifted Stars’ captain and AJ Auxerre striker, Denis Oliech an empty net to aim at in the fourth minute after rushing out of his area but he was not punished.
Three minutes later, the lively former Manchester United striker, Mateus Roberto, commonly known as Manucho, delivered a telling warning to the hosts when he turned in a Mateus Costa through ball towards the left hand corner of Origi’s net but scrambling Dennis Odhiambo cleared off the line.
Manucho got to the end of a floated Felisberto Amaral free kick in the 11th minute to force Origi to a point blank save to keep the scores level. Oliech then poured forward on the counter to feed his strike partner, George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo three minutes later and the latter’s shot was tipped away for a fruitless corner by Joao.
The nervy home crowd was silenced in the 19th minute when Manucho fired Angola to the lead with a sumptuous right foot strike after bursting through the static Joseph Shikokoti and Edgar Ochieng in the Stars defense to connect with the through ball from Costa.
He should have made it two in the 23rd when a suicidal back pass from Odhiambo left him with only Origi to beat but the custodian produced another spectacular save.
Two wayward long range pot shots from Mariga and another from Oliech summed Kenya’s response to the sleek Angolans as Togolese referee; Djaoupe Kokou booked the former for diving to win a penalty in the 32nd.
The first half ended with Kenya on the ropes and the travelling band of Angolans in full song as they sensed a priceless away victory. However, football is a game of two halves and the half-time pep talk by coach Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno and two inspired substitutions turned the match around.
Five minutes after the break, Zico send on Victor Mugabe and more importantly, Jamal ‘Malo Malo’ Mohammed, for the ineffectual Joseph Nyaga and anonymous Johanna Omolo, the debutant who found the grand stage too much to stomach.
Barely three minutes later, Mohammed began a move that saw the ball reach the liberated Mariga who cut it back to Oliech and the striker turned to send a low shot that Joao could only parry back to his box.
For a moment, it seemed the chance would go begging but the speeding Mohammed got there before Relito Zalata and Massunguna Afonso to fire the loose ball in to the unguarded net inviting raptures.
After the bedlam settled, Mariga got into a tangle with Alberto Cavalho for the booking as Stars pressed for the advantage. Odhiambo who joined Danish club Randers FC in the transfer window, attempted to lob Joao from the right as the Palancas Negras resorted to time wasting, with Costa booked for taking ages at a throw in as the clocked ticked towards full time.
The stage for a grand stand finish to the match was set when substitute Fabrico Matuta wasted a one-on-one opportunity against Origi who once again stood tall to smother his effort in the 77th minute.
Zico introduced Kevin Omondi for Odhiambo a minute later and the long awaited hour came. Origi lofted a long clearance that was repelled by Zalata and it landed to Mariga 30 yards out. Without letting it touch the ground, the Inter Milan ace opened up his right foot to send a howitzer to the top left corner of Joao’s net.
Taking off his shirt to reveal ‘God is great, Mariga 17’, the scorer ran half the pitch as the stadium reverberated with deafening noise and it was only when Kokou summoned him and reached for his pocket that it dawned on the crowd his game was over.
In tears, the hero left the pitch with his captain extending a consolatory hand and rallying the deflated crowd to give their team a last lift and after three minutes of added time, it was all over as supporters poured out to the streets in song.
Finally, the winless duck was broken and Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who led the throng of supporters to the stadium, was more than relieved since it was the first Harambee Stars victory he had witnessed in ages.
KENYA– Arnold Origi 18, James Situma 14, Dennis Odhiambo 19, Edgar Ochieng 5, Joseph Shikokoti 4, Johanna Omolo 4 (Jamal Mohammed 2, 50’), MacDonald Mariga 17, Joseph Nyaga 25 (Victor Mugabe 12, 50’), Bob Mugalia 9, George Odhiambo 18 (Kevin Omondi 7, 80’), Dennis Oliech 10
Subs not used: Francis Ochieng 1, Lloyd Wahome 15, Collins Okoth 13, Paul Were 11
Coach: Zedekiah Otieno
ANGOLA– Luis Joao 1, Relito Zalata 2, Massunguna Afonso 3, Carlos Alonso 5, Aderito Cavalho 6 (Jose Vungudica 15’ 86’), Matheus Roberto 9, Felisberto Amaral 11, Djalma Campos 8, Miguel Quiani 15, Matheus Costa 17 (Joao Martins 10, 74’), Kisoka Kivuvu 18 (Fabricio Matuta 75’)
Subs not used: Wilson Alegre 12, Osorio Cavalho 3, Hermenegildo Bartolomeu 7, Fernando Costa 8
Coach: Lito Vidigal