NAIROBI, Kenya, June 5- Goals in either half from Ayub Timbe and Eric Johanna gave Harambee Stars their first win in the 2017 African Cup of Nations Qualifier as the home side beat Congo Brazzaville 2-1 at Safaricom Kasarani Stadium on Sunday.
The result means Guinea Bissau who beat Kenya home and away are now through to their first ever AFCON having beaten Zambia 3-2 in Bissau on Saturday to move to 10 points.
Congo remains second on six points and even if they win their last group match against Guinea Bissau, they will not have an effect on the overall standing on the log.
As the net shook from Johanna’s winner, head coach Stanley Okumbi leapt high in glee as he finally picked up his first win as Harambee Stars coach on the fifth time of asking.
It was a pleasant display from Kenya, arguably the best since the first qualifier match against Congo in Brazzaville.
Okumbi had made changes to the team with Olunga starting upfront alongside Francs Kahata while youngster Erick ‘Marcelo’ Ouma was handed his senior team debut starting up on the left side of defense at the expense of Bulgaria based Aboud Omar.
Spanish based Ismail Gonzalez was also handed his first cap for Kenya, achieving one of his ambitions to partner skipper Victor Wanyama at the heart of the Kenyan midfield.
Kenya went a goal down early through a contentious penalty after Ferebory Dore went down inside the box from a tussle with Ismail Gonzalez, who was also cautioned for the offense.
Skipper Oniangue stepped up and sent Stars keeper Boniface Oluoch the wrong way to open the scores in the 18th minute, even though Congo had played second fiddle to the hosts in most of the opening exchanges.
Coming off a four-match winless streak, Okumbi seemed to have passed on attack-minded instructions to the team as they pressed hard from the opening minute.
Stars had caused the first danger in the fifth minute with captain Victor Wanyama attempting to send Michael Olunga through but the ball was cut off for a corner.
From the set-piece, Congo defended poorly and the ball fell graciously on Johanna’s feet but the Mathare United midfielder’s effort at a first time shot only ended in the ball skying above the target.
Four minutes later, Olunga who was picked out pre-match by the Congolese officials as one of the most dangerous Kenyan player showed exactly why he had instilled some fear in the opponents with a thunderous shot on his weaker right foot from a long Musa Mohammed pass but the ball went over.
Congo were mostly using cross balls and set pieces to attack to which the Kenyan central defensive pairing of Brian Mandela and David ‘Calabar’ Owino managed to deal with gracefully, until the penalty decision that came from a Delvin N’Dinga delivery.
But Congo’s lead and hope of keeping their AFCON ticket chase alive lasted only six minutes as winger Ayub Masika put Stars back level with a thunderous shot after being teed up by Kahata and beating his marker for pace.
Ten minutes later, Wanyama made an effort for his fourth goal for the national team with a shot from distance but his shot went straight to Congo keeper Cristofer Mafumbi.
A minute later, Timbe should have completed his brace but Mafumbi produced a fine save to thwart the winger’s effort after Johanna played an intelligent through pass after dribbling from 40 yards out.
Congo as well came inches close to a second but were denied by the bar after Dore used his height well to connect to a N’Dinga freekick.
Coming off for the breather at 1-1 was a deserved score-line for Kenya who had thrown everything into the match.
At the start of the second half, Okumbi pulled out Gonzalez for Anthony Akumu as he sought to strengthen the midfield with Gonzalez failing to give much of an impact, save for a few moments of brilliance.
On the hour mark, Kenya who had all along pressed in search of a second goal had a chance, with Wanyama sending Olunga through but the Congolese keeper was faster off his line to cover and pick the ball.
Five minutes later, the much needed goal came through, Johanna racing through to a lofted ball from deep in defense and managing to lift the ball over the advancing Congolese keeper.
Kenya had even more chances with Olunga’s point blank header being saved by the keeper while from a counter, Timbe blasted the ball wide with Olunga screaming for the ball inside the six yard box.
Despite increased pressure from the central Africans, they were unable to break a strong defensive wall from Kenya, their AFCON dream tumbling down like a pack of cards, right infront of their eyes.