NAIROBI, June 15 – Harambee Stars gritty 1-1 draw away to Congo Brazzaville in their opening 2017 AFCON qualifiers was warmly received by a nation accustomed to misery on the continental front especially on their travels.
Choruses of praise rang out on social media well into Monday with the man who led the team to their last appearance at the finals in 2004 as head coach, Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee, saying the hard-fought stalemate is a launch pad to a successful bid.
Sunday’s match saw head coach Bobby Williamson’s charges belie their less than ideal preparations to put up an impressive away performance against a team ranked 76 places above them who are on a high of reaching 2015 AFCON quarters.
The result left Group E open to all on a point apiece with Stars sharing joint leadership with Congo on goal difference ahead of 2012 champions Zambia and Guinea Bissau who opened their campaigns with a barren draw.
Stars were expected back home on midnight Tuesday from their Addis Ababa connection.
“It’s a good achievement. A lot of planning and preparation was done and we are ready for AFCON. The draw against Congo Brazzaville shows we are not leaving anything to chance.
“As the team comes back tonight, they will head straight to camp to prepare for CHAN. We will do a lot of preparations before September,” Football Kenya Federation (FKF) president, Sam Nyamweya told Capital Sport Monday.
“Our aim now is to win all our home matches,” he added.
Norway’s Lillestrome keeper, Arnold Origi – the preferred first choice custodian for Stars- missed the match after the federation failed to send his release letter in time but he was among the first to congratulate the team.
“Well done boys. Deserved point away from home. You did what was required, to get something from the game. You should be proud,” Origi who is seeking Norway citizenship wrote on his Twitter account.
Mulee told Capital Sport its the best result the team could get bearing inadequate preparations from a match where Stars sat and waited to spring the counter.
“The team is still gaining cohesion since they were playing as a team for the first time and getting a point away is a plus. Despite people saying they didn’t play well, I think what matters is the result.
“They can still move forward and get better results. For the first time we have a strong squad on the bench,” Mulee, who is now a football pundit with SuperSport and presenter at Radio Jambo pointed out.
The former boss is concerned Stars still could not hold on for a win while playing away after Amazulu winger Paul Were sent them ahead in the ninth minute only for AFC Leopards centre back Jackson Saleh to gift Congo the equaliser 28 minutes later when he handled the ball in the box.
The last time Stars threw away a 1-0 lead was in 2013 during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers when Nnamdi Oduamadi capitalised on Kenya’s defence lapse to strike a late equaliser for Nigeria in Calabar.
Williamson who faced his first competitive assignment since succeeding Belgian Adel Amrouche, started with three strikers, Allan Wanga, Noah Wafula and youngster Michael Olunga.
But apart from the dangerous cross in the seventh minute he cut in, the latter was ineffective and Mulee believes his substitution could have come early.
“Wafula stayed too long in the game; Ayub Timbe could have come much earlier to bring in experience. You can see Williamson also began with Were and Wanga which means he wanted more goals unlike those saying he was defending. We still have the same problem of being unable to hold for a win,” Mulee, the former Tusker and Rwanda’s APR head coach explained.
Were, who is reported to be on his way back to the Kenyan Premier League, was outstanding on the left wing, tormenting Claude Le Roy’s side after Wanga was man-marked by French based centre-back Arnold Bouka Moutou.
Skipper, Victor Wanyama and Gor Mahia’s Collins Okoth played defensive leaving no creative outlet for Stars which enabled the hosts command the midfield especially in the second-half.
Kenya’s defence led by Al-Taawon FC centre-back David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng was solid with David ‘Calabar’ Owino standing tall on the right whilst Aboud Omar manned the left.
However, having returned to the national team for the first time in two years, custodian Boniface Oluoch was unsettled and could have gifted Congo two goals after needlessly racing off his line twice.
“Oluoch took time to come back to the squad so sometimes one can be naive. He was playing with a different squad from what he is used at Gor where he plays more of a sweeper and makes early decisions. He needs more time to work with the defenders and he will be good to go,” Mulee who a keeper in his playing days stated.
Kenya next host the Chipolopolo of Zambia September 5 and a win could put them in pole position to return to AFCON for the first time in over a decade.