NAIROBI, June 21- Harambee Stars went down 2-0 to hosts Ethiopia in their 2016 CHAN qualifier first-leg played at a packed Bahar Dar Stadium on Sunday.
Club Ethiopia winger, Asechalew Girma netted the opener in the 24th minute before Gatoch Panom doubled the lead from the spot to leave head coach Bobby Williamson’s charges needing to score three goals in the return-leg for them to progress to the next round.
Kenya were handed a penalty in the 74th but Tusker FC midfielder Kevin Kimani failed to reduce the deficit after his spotkick was saved by the Walia Ibex keeper, Tarik Getnet.
Stars who played a 4-5-1 format with Olunga as the lone striker dominated the first 20 minutes of the game, although the Gor Mahia striker failed to trouble the Walia Ibex keeper, Tarik.
Olunga squandered two chances, first when AFC Leopards’ speedy winger Noah Wafula did well to beat two defenders on the right before curling in a cross but the young striker failed to connect.
Olunga was at it again in the 21st, this time beating Tarik but defender Aschalew Tamene cleared the ball off the line for a fruitless corner.
Three minutes later, the hosts went ahead with their first meaningful attack when Asechalew netted his debut goal for the Walia Ibex smashing home the rebound after keeper Boniface Oluoch had parried the ball.
The goal motivated the hosts as they took control of the proceedings, tormenting the Kenyan defence of Aboud Omar, Jackson Saleh, Edwin Wafula and Lloyd Wahome..
Stars had another chance to equalise in the 36th when Olunga brought in a brilliant cut back but Noah Wafula blazed wide from close range.
Two minutes to the break, Asechalew nearly grabbed a second when he beat the off-side trap but Oluoch was well positioned to save the one-on-one.
Three minutes after restart, Wahome saw his free header go wide moments before Saleh came to Stars rescue when he cut out an Ethiopian attack.
Olunga fluffed yet another chance to make amends when he missed a Humphrey Mieno’s pin point pass on 54 minutes.
Kenya then thought they should have had a penalty after an Ethiopian defender appeared to handle Wafula’s cross but the Liberian referee waved away their appeals.
Williamson made a tactical change in search of the equaliser when he pulled out Noah Wafula for KPL top scorer Ali Abondo while Jacob Keli came on for Mieno.
In the 70th, OIuoch pulled out a fine top corner save but Ethiopia were awarded a penalty moments later to see Gatoch step up to convert for the second goal.
Stars were then given a chance to pull one back from the spot but Kimani saw his spot-kick parried by Tarik.
Williamson did his final substitution, withdrawing Kimani for Jesse Were but time did not allow the Tusker forward to settle as Stars fell to the Walia Ibex.
Kenya needs to overturn the deficit when they host the return leg in a fortnight for them to advance to the first round where Sudan who got a bye from the preliminaries awaits.