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Our best players didn’t show up- Okumbi

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Harambee Stars head coach Stanley Okumbi feeds instructions to skipper Alpha Onyango during their African Under-20 Cup of Nations qualifer against Rwanda at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on April 1, 2018. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 1- Stanley Okumbi was left frustrated that his best players did not rise up to the occasion on Sunday as Kenya’s Under-20 team was held to a frustrating 1-1 draw at home by Rwanda in an African Under-20 Cup of Nations Qualifier in Machakos.

It was a sluggish and hands-back display from Okumbi’s young guns and he admitted they simply did not show up when it mattered most, especially after performing well in friendly matches against Premier League teams.

“It is disappointing of course and sometimes it happens in football that your best players don’t rise to the occasion. It is the same players that played in the friendly games and with the same plan but if you look at the likes of Musa (Masika), Richie (Richard Odada), Keegan (Zakayo), Alpha (Onyango) in midfield…. They didn’t take the game as we planned,” the tactician regretted.

Skipper Onyango who turns out for champions Gor Mahia in the Premier League, also admitted the team did not do its best against the Rwandese.

“It is a disappointing result because playing at home, we needed to win today. We did not push ourselves like we have done in the past but we have to get back to training and improve on what we failed on today,” the midfielder said.

Byiringiro Rague scored in the 88th minute to cancel out Odada’s first half goal and the result means Kenya has to win or pick a high scoring draw in the return leg on April 21 in Kigali to progress to the second qualification round.

Despite the result, Okumbi believes that the team can get back to the drawing board and ensure they improve to pick a win in Kigali.

“We have to go back and look at what we did right and what we did wrong. We need to encourage the boys that this is something we can do. In our friendly matches, the speed of the game, passing and execution was great but against Rwanda, that was our main undoing,” an upbeat Okumbi noted.

Meanwhile, Rwanda coach Vincent Mashami remains coy despite picking up the priceless away goal that the tie is far from over.

He is however confident that the team stands a good chance playing at their backyard and has called on his boys to keep their calm and treat the return leg as a fresh contest, putting the 1-1 result in Machakos behind them.

“We have 90 minutes remaining in this game and we have to forget about the first leg. We played well and I am happy but now the focus is on the final part of the game. Playing at home gives us much confidence on the ball but we need to work harder and be more aggressive,” Mashami noted.

Kenya will be looking to make an imprint in the junior qualifiers, having limped off last time out when they were eliminated by CAF over administrative issues surrounding dates of birth of several players.

They had held Sudan to a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Khartoum before the Sudanese launched a successful appeal.

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