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Harambee Stars hit by CAR in Marrakech

Harambee Stars players line up before a past friendly match against Iraq in Basra. PHOTO/Courtesy

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 27- Ten-man Harambee Stars suffered a 3-2 loss at the hands of 121st placed Central African Republic (CAR) in their second FIFA friendly match played in Marrakech, Morocco on Tuesday evening.

This follows the 2-2 draw with Comoros on Saturday, two results that will definitely see the national football team plunge in the next FIFA rankings having failed to win against two teams placed way lower than them.

CAR put the game to bed with what seemed to be a soft penalty in the 70th minute with Foxi Kethevoama and Eudes Dagoulou having scored in between Eric Johannah’s equalizer.

Michael Olunga scored a late second for Kenya, but it was too little too late.

Stars’ day went from bad to worse when right back Ismail Gonzalez was sent off for bad-mouthing the referee with 14 minutes left on the clock.

Goalkeeper Patrick Matasi was the busiest of the 11 Kenyan players on the pitch, making three brilliant saves that ensured the two teams went to the break tied at 1-1. Save for collecting the ball in his own net after Johannah’s equalizer, the CAR keeper didn’t have much to do.

Having drawn 2-2 against Comoros in their first friendly on Saturday, Okumbi’s men came into the tie eager for a win to bring their confidence floating again.

He made four changes to his starting team. David Owino took up the captaincy with Victor Wanyama missing while Anthony Akumu took his place in midfield.

Ayub Timbe who missed the 2-2 draw with Comoros last Friday started on the left side of midfield ahead of Francis Kahata while AFC Leopards captain Duncan Otieno went in ahead of Johannah Omollo.

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Paul Were who came on as a second half substitute has also earned the starting role ahead of namesake Jesse Were.

Timbe had Kenya’s first chance of the game after six minutes when he drifted to the right to pull in a low shot, but the ball went wide. Three minutes later, Timbe was in the thick of things once again this time sliding in to an Olunga cross, but he mistimed his run.

CAR broke the deadlock in the 14th minute, punishing a careless loss of possession by Kenya. Kethevoama volleyed the ball home from the right unmarked after David Manga had picked the ball off Akumu’s feet on the left and diced in a cross.

Stars however responded immediately, Johannah finishing calmly inside the box. Olunga had raced onto a long ball, skipped past the keeper but his shot was blocked Nicaise Zimbori. The Girona forward picked the pieces again and squared it back into the area for Johannah to finish.

But CAR continued to command possession, passing the ball well while Kenya relied on second balls, hitting most upfront to Olunga.

Kethevoama almost made it 2-1 in the 21st minute but Matasi produced an excellent save to backtrack and tip the ball behind for a corner after the forward had lobbed the ball from the edge of the box.

Dagoulou had a chance as well in the 26th minute when a quick exchange of passes at the edge of the box saw him break into the box, but his effort to bend the ball into the top corner was futile, the ball going wide.

Harambee Stars players hurdle for a prayer after a training session in Marrakech. PHOTO/FKF

Matasi made another great save nine minutes to the break when he went down low at his near post to give a strong palm to Dagoulou’s shot.

The Posta Rangers custodian produced another stellar stop four minutes later when Kethevoama’s corner was brushed to Zimbori’s direction who headed it strongly on target, but an agile Matasi parried it away.

In the second half, Okumbi started off by bringing in Clifton Miheso for the jaded Timbe who was playing his first competitive match since returning from a three-month injury lay-off. Were was also rested for Samuel Onyango.

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Stars almost took the lead early on but keeper Geoffrey Lembet made a great save to slap the ball against the crossbar after Saint Cyr Ngam-Ngam brushed it behind as he attempted to clear a cross.

Substitute Onyango also came close in the 57th minute when Omar’s freekick from the left found him isolated at the back-post but his volley came off the woodwork.

The CAR side however pounced on another chance and made it count, Dagoulou heading strongly unmarked inside the box from Manga’s cross.

Immediately, Okumbi made his third change of the game, Patillah Omotto coming on for Johannah. Omotto almost made an immediate impact cutting back a cross for Olunga. But the latter’s connection on his weaker right foot was collected.

Stars suffered with a soft penalty awarded to CAR when Momi Hilaire went down easily from a tussle for the ball with skipper Odhiambo inside the box and the ref pointed to the spot. Hilaire took matters into his own hands and scored.

Six minutes later, Kenya’s day went from bad to worse when Gonzalez who had an equally long day at right back was sent off for bad-mouthing the ref.

Olunga hit a low left footed shot in the 82nd minute, but Kenya could not amass energy for a winner.

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