NAIROBI, November 27 – Harambee Stars chances of advancing to the 2015 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup quarterfinals hang by a thread following a humiliating 3-1 defeat to minnows Zanzibar in their final preliminary match at Hawassa Stadium in Ethiopia on Friday.
Kassim Suleiman struck a brace with Mcha Khamis adding another for the most stunning result of the tournament thus far.
Zambia’s Nkana FC forward, Jacob Keli, pulled one back in stoppage time but it was scant consolation for the titleholders who’s chances of avoiding an early flight back home hinges on mathematics.
Stars who still lead Group B on four points, will hope Burundi do them a favour by beating Uganda Cranes for them to automatically qualify to the knock out stages.
If the two sides settle for a draw of any kind, Stars will wait to see if they will progress as the best third places finishers across all groups.
Head coach Bobby Williamson who elected to start a largely second string side with strikers Allan Wanga and Jesse Were coming on for regulars Michael Olunga and Jacob Keli, wasted no time in apologising to Kenyans for the horror result.
It was the first win for Zanzibar Heroes who will take immense pride for felling a regional titan on their way out of the tournament.
“We defended badly. I thought the boys who came on could do the job but it was never the case. We have learnt a lot on who we can depend on and who can take the team forward. Wanga missed a lot of chances but Keli did well to pull one back.
“They were a better side and that proved the results against Uganda was false since they were playing one man less. They are not a bad side since they created chances.
“Players have to take responsibility at times and I apologise to all our fans back in Nairobi because that is not the type of performance they should be watching.
“I will make sure if we get the next game there will be a better team that will work hard and ensure we win,” Williamson rued after the loss.
Zanzibar assistant coach, Malale Hamsini hailed his charges for going out with a bang.
“The boys gave their all and they played according to instructions today. We have bowed out but we have given our country respect. We lost the first match because the weather was not friendly while the second match against Uganda the red card cost us.”
Kenya were a pale shadow of themselves in the first half that saw the Azam FC forward Wanga, who was the captain for the match, fire blanks a day after his birthday.
Stars who needed a win to advance showed urgency in the opening minutes of the game with Wanga heading straight to keeper, Abdulrahman Mohammed after Omar Mbogi headed back to him from the left.
Were could have sent the champions ahead in the fifth minute but the SportPesa Premier League top scorer feebly shot to the keeper from close range after Kevin Amwayi headed the ball down for him.
Mwinyi Haji cleared Wanga’s effort off the line before Zanzibar gained confidence to take control of proceedings.
Kenya’s reserve custodian, David Okello, who earned the starting nod ahead of first choice, Boniface Oluoch, had the first save of the game parrying over Suleiman’s shot after the striker picked a loose ball on the left.
Zanzibar captain, Haroub Nadir thought he had found the opener when he tapped in past Okello at the half hour mark, but referee Ali Mahmoud from Sudan wrongly ruled the goal off side.
Replays in the live televised match showed Stars center halves, Musa Mohammed and Harun Shakava had put Nadir onside.
Kenya were handed a chance to break the deadlock three minutes later when Abdulrahman conceded an indirect free-kick inside the box after staying with the ball for more than six seconds.
The resultant set piece taken by Amwayi was blocked before Kenya were punished for poor marking.
Mbongi allowed the Heros to nick in a cross that was miscued by Khamis before Kassim lashed the ball home with a long range low shot to hand his side the first goal of the tournament on the stroke of half time.
Stars hopes of a comeback in the second half were dimmed when Suleiman danced past Anthony Akumu on the right to swing in a cross that was met by Khamis who doubled the lead in the 56th minute.
Things went from bad to worse when Suleiman notched his brace and third for his side after rounding Shakava to calmly smash past an advancing Okello in the 73rd even after Williamson had strengthened his attacking force by withdrawing Amwayi for Eric Johanna.
Gor Mahia striker, Michael Olunga and Keli were thrown into the fray for Were and Kevin Kimani but the duo could not salvage the sinking ship.
Keli then rounded the scoring but the humiliation was already complete.