NAIROBI, September 6 – Harambee Stars remain winless in Group E of the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers, following their 2-1 home defeat to Zambia in a lively encounter played at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium on Sunday.
The Chipolopolo scored two goals in a space of 12 minutes through Zesco United forward, Winstone Kalengo and Mpumalanga Black Aces striker, Collins Mbesuma to cancel out Michael Olunga’s early strike.
Congo Brazzaville who beat minnows Guinea Bissau 4-2 on Saturday top the group from Zambia on goal difference on four points.
Kenya slipped to third ahead of Guinea Bissau on goals conceded.
Stars head coach, Bobby Williamson who is yet to win a competitive match since joining the team in August 2014, was disappointed but believes all is not lost as the nation seeks to return to the continental showpiece for the first time since 2004.
“Zambia played well although we are disappointed we lost the match after starting well. We needed goals and that’s why we brought fresh legs in Omolo but still we never scored.
“We conceded two cheap goals and we defended badly, if we continue like this we will not win matches. To be fair their two strikers were quality,” Williamson said after the match.
His opposite number, George Lwandamina said the win brought them on back track to returning to the Nations Cup when it will be hosted in Gabon.
“Good victory, although it wasn’t easy playing away from home, most of our boys are new and its good they stood to the pressure. Kenya changed the strategy resulting to playing long balls but it worked against them. Experience worked for us and we are now back on track.”
Gor Mahia forward ‘Engineer’ Olunga sparked capacity-packed Nyayo National Stadium inside the opening quarter of an hour when he capitalised on miscommunication between Zambian goalkeeper, Kennedy Mweene and defender Aaron Katebe to poke the ball home from the edge of the area for the opener.
Returning to the national team for the first time since May 2014, Norway’s Lillestromme first choice custodian, Arnold Origi pulled a double save in the 21st minute to keep out Kalengo’s close range effort before parrying away Jack Chirwa’s follow-up.
That was the only save the experienced keeper made as Stars dominated the tie that saw Williamson gamble to start without a creative midfielder.
Gor Mahia’s Collins Okoth got the nod ahead of Belgian based Omolo while record scorer, Dennis Oliech played for the first time in his squad despite the former captain having not played competitive football since he ditched French side,Ajaccio who were relegated from Ligue 1
Williamson was forced to make his first change when the hero in the 1-1 away draw to Congo Brazzaville, Paul Were, limped out but his substitution for Noah Wafula was ineffectual as the Tusker FC winger waste the ball time and again with a poor first touch.
Veteran Mbesuma, provided a man of the match performance since besides scoring the winning goal, he also dropped back to pocket captain Victor Wanyama and nullify his threat in midfield.
At the half hour mark, the small band of Zambian supporters next to the VIP dias had a reason to celebrate when Mbesuma set up Kalengo with a precise pass and the Zesco man did well to turn and unleash a cracker from 12 yards to silence thousands of home fans.
Okoth then warmed Mweene’s gloves with a 25 yard shot off a Timbe layoff but it was Zambia who found the back of the net again three minutes to the breather, after Stars’ defence went asleep again.
Kalengo returned the favour when he controlled a throw in before finding Mbesuma who took a touch before squeezing a low hard shot via the right post that beat Origi for a 2-1 halftime lead.
Belgian winger, Ayub Timbe was Kenya’s best player with boundless running on the flanks as Stars bossed the second half as Olunga forced defender, Chisamba Lungu to clear his header off the line.
Stars final change saw them introduce Azam forward Allan Wanga for Oliech but Zambia were now in cruise control as the former AFC Leopards attacker was evidently not match fit, a recurrent problem in most of Williamson’s foreign based legion.
With Stars pressing for the equaliser, the visitors resorted to time wasting as Boyd Mkandawire, Mweene and Kalengo took turns on the turf requiring medical treatment.
This agitated the fans on the notorious ‘Russia’ side threw projectiles in protest before the referee took charge forcing off Zambia’s Team Doctor, Joseph Kabungo after Mkandawire had gone down again.
The last minutes of the game saw Stars launch long ball after long ball but Mweene and his defence repelled skilfully to seal victory.
Stars have not won at home for 15 months with the qualifiers returning in March 2016 where Stars travel to Guinea Bissau.