NAIROBI, Kenya, May 19 – When the tiny island of Comoros with a population of 800,000 came out for Kenya in the draw for the preliminary round of 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers many football enthusiasts expected a walk in the park since Harambee Stars are way above them in the world rankings.
Comoros who are ranked 184th globally and 78 places below Kenya were participating in the Afcon qualification for a third time and nobody could imagine they would give Stars, five-time qualifiers at Afcon finals, a run of their money.
On Sunday, the plucky islanders conceded only one goal from the boot of Lomel United midfielder, Johanna Omolo’s whose 34th minute thunderbolt settled the contest.
Fans thronged Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium donning national team colours ready witness a goal fest from the hosts who featured nine foreign based players with only Norway based first choice shot stopper, Arnold Origi missing.
Before the clash, head coach Adel Amrouche had cautioned his charges not to underrate their opponents especially after they held Burkina Faso to a one-all- draw in a build up match in France.
But his tactics failed to secure a healthy advantage ahead of the second leg in a fortnight especially after starting with a squad that had not gelled.
Fielding Oman based Jamal Mohammed, MLS defender Lawrence Olum and Genk forward Ayub Timbe despite jetting in 24 hours before the match was an example of the ill advised approach to the game that left many disappointed and the side staring at an early exit.
Playing a defensive 4-5-1 with Allan Wanga and Dennis Oliech switching up front, his formation stifled Stars and made the team blunt going forward with the former anonymous in the first half forcing the Belgium to substitute him with Clifton Miheso.
It took 25 minutes for Kenya to fashion a first notable effort on goal through captain and English Premier League side midfielder Victor Wanyama that went over the bar.
The visitors who looked harmless were confident in the midfield with captain and English Championship side Millwall player, Nadjim Abdou controlling as Soule Mohamed terrorized the home side defence but wasted a number of chances that could have nicked a precious away goal for the islanders.
Omolo brought some confidence after netting a long range cracker before he headed in on the stroke of half-time but was denied by referee Wellington Kauma from Zambia who waved offside.
With fans getting impatient, some from the ‘Russia’ stand signalling for substitutions, Amrouche was forced to bring on Inter Milan midfielder Macdonald Mariga who was making a come back after a two year absence.
Mariga changed the game and was instrumental in bringing in a cross that landed on Oliech’s right foot in the box, but he failed to convert the chance after falling for a penalty claim that was dismissed.
The AJ Ajaccio forward was not at his best as he went on to miss another clear chance from Wanyama’s deflection and having served the team for 12 years with dedication, it begged questions whether he could still be relied on to lead the line for upcoming games.
After the match, Wanyama called upon Football Kenya Federation to organize more friendly matches for them to qualify to the continental showpiece.
“The match was little bit difficult because it’s the first time we are playing together after a long time so we only need time to train together and everything will be okay since this is a good squad.
“We are expecting a tough return leg because they can score more goals having the advantage of playing at home but we hope they don’t defend like they did here,” the Stars skipper said after the match.
Despite the performance labelled pedestrian by most, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) boss, Sam Nyamweya, congratulated the side on Monday saying “Kenyans have every reason to be proud and the kind of spirit we saw from our team is clear testimony that the boys want to go to Morocco next year.”
According to the FKF chief, officiating was the reason behind the team not getting a comfortable cushion to take to the second leg.
“I remain dissatisfied with the officiating of our match by the Zambian referee. A number of decisions he made hurt our game and had he performed to standards, we should have had more goals.
“Johanna Omollo’s disallowed goal should have stood and there was no explicable reason for not counting the goal. That was a clean goal and disallowing it in the manner the referee did is unacceptable and we believe it is evidence of incompetence on the part of the officials,” he added in his congratulatory message.
Nyamweya also held Oliech’s penalty appeal should have stood whilst announcing FKF would petition CAF against the officiating.
However, there is no hiding from the fact that Kenya made their own lives difficult by failing to turn their possession into goals although they need a draw in Comoros to advance to the second round.
Oliech and injured keeper Duncan Ochieng are the only players in the current side who were in the class of 2004 under the tutelage of Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee that played in the country’s fifth and last showing at the Afcon finals.
Liberia also fashioned a 1-0 success over Lesotho to take a slim advantage in the preliminaries with Stars scheduled to meet the winner of that tie in the next round.
The latter have an advantage following their 1-0 win over Lesotho in the first leg on Saturday.
Group C that has Angola, Gabon and Burkina Faso awaits Kenya if they go on to beat either Liberia or Lesotho over the two legs.