NAIROBI, November 22 – Harambee Stars launched their Cecafa Senior Challenge defence in emphatic fashion by defeathering the old enemy, Uganda Cranes, 2-0 on Sunday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Kenya once again confounded critics by fashioning a commanding victory over a side tipped as potential champions to bury the ghosts of a nightmare week that saw them crash out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup after losing 2-1 on aggregate to Cape Verde on Tuesday.
Jacob Keli sent Kenya ahead in the 29th minute before Gor Mahia lethal forward, Michael ‘Engineer’ Olunga added the second in the 49th as head coach Bobby Williamson returned to haunt his former employers he led to the 2012 crown.
Stars top Group B, billed as the pool of death, on three points ahead of Burundi on goal difference after they edged out Zanzibar 1-0.
Williamson charges face Burundi in Awassa, south of Addis, on Wednesday where victory will all but send them to the quarter-finals with a game to spare.
Uganda head coach, Milutin Sredojevic said they lost to a Kenyan side that was more experienced than them but Williamson dismissed the Serbian who succeeded him at Cranes.
“We maintained a clean sheet and scored two goals. I’m pleased with the players. It’s not a World Cup squad as the Ugandan coach pointed out, it’s just few who were involved.
“He picks his team and I select mine, I brought what was the best available so if he didn’t, then I think he is being disrespectful to the tournament.
“It’s always good to win the first game because we have now pushed Uganda behind. We are now focusing on Burundi who is a good team, it’s going to be a difficult match but we will do our best, “Williamson underscored after the win.
His opposite number said his side was still on honeymoon after booking their place to the 2018 World Cup Group stages after eliminating Togo 4-0 on aggregate.
“We are still on honeymoon, football is a game where you need to use your chances but we didn’t. We played against a World Cup squad of Kenya compared to us who had 80 percent of the players playing for the first time in Cecafa so it was difficult to come back against an experienced side.
“It was not our day but we will go back to the drawing board and analyze what went wrong to come back strong in the next game against Zanzibar,” the Serbian declared.
Keli, who plies his trade at Zambia’s Nkana FC, proved his worth after Williamson gave him the chance to lead the attack ahead of Olunga, the engineering student who joined his teammates later after sitting for his exams.
Uganda came to the clash with wind in their sails after qualifying for the group stages of the CAF 2018 World Cup qualifiers but it was their wounded opponents who did the early pressing.
Stars made a statement of intent when the unmarked Keli failed to get on to a Clifton Miheso cross from the left in the eight minute that would have given his side a dream start.
At the other end, keeper, Boniface Oluoch narrowed the angle to deny Crane’s skipper, Farouk Miya, the chance to wrap right foot on a Denis Okot cross from the right in the 21st.
Miya then rattled the woodwork five minutes later with a shot from inside the penalty area with Okot once again marauding the right for the assist as Uganda started to underline their favourite status.
However, the stuffing was knocked out of them two minutes later when Mathare United’s, Eric Johanna’s pass split the defence to give Keli the opportunity to fashion a neat finish for the opener.
Zambia’s Zesco United centre half, David ‘Calabar’ Owino thwarted Cranes in their pursuit of a quick riposte when he blocked a dangerous Erisa Ssekisambu’s shot for an unfruitful corner.
Cranes custodian, James Alitho, then kept his side in it twice as half time approached; first stopping Keli’s shot before diving to punch away Finland based winger, Miheso’s floating cross to prevent the ball reaching the striker who was poised to pull the trigger.
Kenya shaded the opening stages of the second half and got full reward inside four minutes of the restart when Olunga who came on for Keli side-footed into the net with his second touch of the ball to double the advantage.
Miheso who is growing in prominence in the side, lay the assist after he cut in and fed the forward who simply can’t stop scoring as he notched a 37th of his amazing season.
Sredojevic introduced Keziron Kizito for Hassan Waswa with the change almost paying off instantly but Oluoch came up with the save from the substitute’s effort.
Cranes who missed most of their key players like Gor Mahia duo, Godfrey Walusimbi and midfielder, Khalid Aucho, surged forward but Stars remained resolute to see out the game and launch their title-defence in style.
Williamson had the luxury of exhausting his substitutions; withdrawing Miheso for Christian Bwamy as Azam FC based striker, Allan Wanga came on for SportPesa Premier League top scorer, Jesse Were.
Cranes had a chance to pull one back, a minute to stoppage time when Miya was put through with only Oluoch to beat but the skipper who was instrumental in Uganda’s 3-0 win over Togo in the 2018 World Cup pre-qualifier blazed over.
Three shrill blasts from match referee, Abdulahi Mohanud of Somalia brought the contest to an end soon after with Olunga leading the prayers to God for a job well done.