NAIROBI, May 9- The 2016 Rio Olympics miracle fell just short for Kenya under-23s as they crashed out of the qualifiers on Saturday despite a Michael Olunga hat-trick inspiring a 4-1 rout Botswana at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium.
It was a heartbreaking exit for the hosts who recorded their biggest victory in ages against a side that tore them 3-0 in the first leg but ultimately, the away goal cost them as the breathtaking tie finished 4-4 on aggregate.
Given virtually no chance of progression, Bobby Williamson’s charges welcomed back student and the lanky Gor Mahia striker Olunga back to the fold after he missed the first encounter to sit for exams a fortnight ago.
His worth to the team was immediately felt when he powered Kenya to the lead to launch the incredible fight back that came within another goal of sealing one of the most stirring comeback victories from the dead in the tie that also served as a CAF Under 23 Championships qualifier.
However, it was the Young Zebra’s who threatened first with Ian Otieno thwarting Bogosi Kaekwa from point blank range after he raced to a Kabelo Seakanyeng pass in the first dangerous raid of the match.
After Collins Shivachi and Olunga threatened an opener for the hosts, the Gor forward was put through by Jackson Macharia with 19 minutes gone and this time, he did not miss the target after uncorking a powerful finish past Goitseone Phoko in the Botswana goal.
Soon, it was 1-1 when Oomatla Kebatho who notched a brace in the first leg equalised from a Mpho Kgaswane threaded ball to peg Kenya back and restore their three goal advantage and crucially; get what proved to be the priceless away goal.
Undeterred, Harambee Stars piled forward and Olunga claimed his double when he tapped in a Collins Shivachi cross in the 33rd to carry a 2-1 lead to the break.
Jackson Macharia saw his powder keg strike turned away brilliantly by Phoko close to the hour after being put through by substitute John Ndirangu who was brought on by Williamson to inject pace in the attack as Kenya gave their Olympics hopes one final push after the breather.
With Botswana content on keeping the Kenyans at bay after their initial thrust at the start of the second half died down, Ndirangu almost enlivened proceedings when he forced Phoko into another good stop before he finally nailed in a deserved goal 12 minutes from the 90 to re-ignite hopes of the improbable.
However, Botswana had the sights of the finish line into additional time but Olunga was not done yet as he claimed his first hat-trick for his country when he nodded in an Ian Otieno free-kick deep into the stoppage period.
The sands of time then ran out for the hosts as the relieved Young Zebras advanced to meet Zambia in the next phase as Kenya were left ruing the missed opportunity of the bungled first leg were a second half capitulation cost them dear in spite of the handsome 4-1 win.