NAIROBI, September 6- “It’s not Monday yet but Harambee have given us stress,” a dispirited fan rued as he joined thousands of dispirited home supporters to troop out of Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium heads hanging low in despair on Sunday.
Such a mammoth crowd has not been witnessed for a national team game in recent times as belief coursed through a nation that somehow, the heroes would blunt the copper bullets (chipolopolo) of Zambia but at the end of the evening, the sun went down with Stars licking a bitter 2-1 defeat.
Before kick-off, the packed stadium was rocking as optimism filled the air but after 95 odds minutes, a funeral atmosphere saw glum faces empty the venue almost in total quiet.
It was another harsh indictment of the country’s football as the watching federation president, Sam Nyamweya, saw his handiwork go out in flames, literally.
Irate fans in the Russia stands where hardcore supporters side tore two giant banners he had elected in the hoardings advertising his candidature to retain Football Kenya Federation (FKF)’s presidency emblazoned- Join The Winning Team, Sam Nyamweya for Football Kenya Federation President.
They then lit them and as they were consumed by flames, hopes of Kenya returning to the continental showpiece finals seemed to be turning to ashes with them.
If anything best summed the FKF president’s first four year tenure was the match result itself- much promise but no end result- as Michael Olunga gave Stars the lead on 13 minutes before well taken strikes by Winstone Kalengo and seasoned striker, Collins Mbesuma turned the game around before half time.
A disjointed display was punished after the early joy as the patched up Stars team lost out to a side that got most of football’s basics right on the day.
For most of the second half, the home fans desolately looked on as a small band of ecstatic Zambia National Soccer Fans Association band of supporters turned on their full repertoire of celebratory chants and songs.
They had the freedom of Nyayo, adjacent to where Nyamweya, former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga and Zambia’s federation president and legend, Kalusha Bwalya were sat in the VIP dais.
The burning of Nyamweya banners and the incident on 71 minutes when some fans on the Russia stands pelted the pitch with missiles were the only incidents that exited the home fans that were subdued by lack of progress on the pitch.
The protests were sparked by perceived time wasting tactics by the Zambians who went down like dominoes for medical attention.
However, the evening started like a dream when Nyayo Stadium was almost unhinged from its foundations the moment Olunga capitalised on a rare defensive lapse by Chipolopolo as keeper Kennedy Mweene and his defender hesitated to clear a long ball from Lawrence Olum to poke Stars in front.
Having studied their hosts’ tactics, the 2012 African champions who are in a rebuilding phase following their first round exit in the finals earlier this year started to boss matters and it was only a matter of time before they got level and then gain the lead.
Returning record scorer, Dennis Oliech, was rested mid second half to wild cheers of relief from a crowd that turned against him in what looked like a cruel final bow for the team he has served with distinction for over a decade before he was shunted out of the squad in 2012.
But the veteran striker who has visibly lost some of the speed that made him a feared forward worldwide did not do much wrong since the supply service was lacking but trust Kenyans to find a focal point to express their disappointment when he was given much flak.
His replacement Allan Wanga fared no better as the focal point in attack as the Azam FC player looked laden of foot for lack of fitness as Kenya enjoyed sterile dominance.
Head coach Bobby Williamson’s decisions to start with two sitting midfielders in captain and Southampton star, Victor Wanyama and Gor Mahia’s Collins Okoth was cited as one of the reasons the team lacked punch upfront as Johanna Omollo, a more creative man started on the bench.
Until Omollo came on to replace Okoth, Wanyama was excellently marshalled by Mbesuma who dropped deep to allow his forward partner, Kalengo to lead the attack to nullify the EPL’s star influence as he disappeared in the crowded midfield.
Williamson who is yet to win a competitive match with Stars since he replaced Adel Amrouche perhaps exercised too much caution at the start but could not turn the game when the Chipolopolo wave started shooting down his defence, particularly on the left where Olum had a torrid afternoon.
He also lost winger Paul Were inside the first half hour to injury and apart from Ayub Timbe who left his heart on the pitch, most of the foreign based players emerged with little credit, begging the question whether there is an effective system in place to monitor their fitness.
But whatever happened at Nyayo as Kenya slipped to third in Group E behind Zambia and Congo Brazzaville who lead the way with four points apiece cannot be blamed on the 95 odd minutes the match went on.
After drawing with Guinea Bissau, the Zambians organised a training camp for their local based players and four made their starting XI and blended well with those playing outside their shores to put an effective albeit unconvincing performance.
This was hardly the Zambia of old that terrified Africa but still Stars could not find a way past them save for the Olunga goal and when a header from the same striker from a Timbe corner was cleared off the line.
Apart from Olunga who excelled with Oliech providing him the foil to release the pressure, Okoth and defender Dennis Odhiambo who were the locals in the Stars team did not impress.
However, majority of the blame should not be shouldered by the players or their technical bosses but it should be placed in the doorstep of the federation and its boss yet again.
What Nyamweya watched unfold should be reason enough for him to take a dignified exit and allow fresh leadership since in the four years he promised a new dawn, Stars are still deep in the cesspool of mediocrity.