NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 14 – Harambee Stars inched closer to qualifying for 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Sunday after displaying a brilliant performance, skinning Ethiopia’s Walia Ibex 3-0 in a Group F qualifying match at a fully packed Moi Sports Centre Kasarani.
Despite playing for only 72 minutes, skipper Victor Wanyama gave in a solid performance, perhaps one of the best in the national team jersey and capped it off with Kenya’s third goal in the triumph that took them to seven points on top of the group and very close to the Cup of Nations which will be hosted in Cameroon.
Sumptuous first half goals by Michael Olunga and Eric Johana put Stars on their way before Wanyama sealed the victory with a 66th minute penalty.
Stars will qualify to the Cup of Nations with the win if the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will confirm the expulsion of Sierra Leone from the qualifiers with the West Africans currently under a FIFA suspension. Their match against Ghana was called off pending a decision from the continental body.
If the West Africans are reinstated, a high unlikelihood, then Kenya will only need to beat them in Nairobi next month to confirm their place in the Cup of Nations.
On Sunday though, Stars gave a performance worth every fans’ time.
In a full to capacity Kasarani Stadium, Stars were met with a thunderous crowd and from the first minute, it was evident their morale and motivation for three points was unquestionable.
The home boys took control of the match from the first whistle with the partisan crowd cheering every move and every pass.
Stars created the first danger at goal in the third minute of the game when Johana broke away on the right before delivering a beautiful cross into the area, but Ethiopian centre back Anteneh Tesfaye turned it behind for a corner.
He was fortunate as his block almost turned into an own goal, but good for him he was a yard off his goalmouth.
Four minutes later, Ouma found the ball at the edge of the box after Olunga battled with three Ethiopian defenders to poke it forward, but the former’s low shot went wide off target.
The Ethiopians had a temporary period of domination where they took the ball and played their trademark passing game, trying to open up the Kenyan back-line that has not conceded a single goal in three games.
They had half chances with skipper Getaneh Kebede striking a shot wide from the right while Shemeles Bekele also tried with a freekick from the right which went wide.
But Stars, not about to be cowed infront of their home fans took back control and it didn’t take long before they added goals to dominance.
Olunga opened the scores in the 23rd minute in the most sumptuous of ways, curling the ball with his stronger left foot into the far post after Johana had touched down the ball for him.
The crowd roared in deafening crescendo as they appreciated not only the fact that Kenya was a goal ahead, but the manner in which the goal was sent home by the engineer, a beautiful goal, one for the ages and the scrapbooks.
Four minutes later, Stars would be two up and Kasarani would explode with Johana striking another breath-taking goal with his weaker left foot.
The midfielder picked up the ball at the edge of the box after Francis Kahata had missed a header off a well delivered cross and the Sweden based attacking midfielder took the shot on the first touch, curling it beyond keeper Samson Asefa who was left astounded.
With the two goal cushion, Stars dominated play with the Ethiopians feeling the heat of the atmosphere created at the Stadium.
At the break, Kenya would almost go three up when Brian mandela’s header off a Johana cross was blocked a yard from the line with keeper Asefa beaten.
In the second half, Stars started on the front foot and their early pressing bore fruit after 66 minutes when Johana was brought down as he skillfully went past an Ethiopian defender.
Skipper Wanyama stepped up to the pressure and made no mistake, sending the keeper the wrong way to seal the victory. He was however substituted after 72 minutes after picking up a muscle strain, a worry for his club Tottenham Hotspur.
Johana, arguably with a man of the match performance was also brought off after picking an injury and his place taken by Ismail Gonzalez.
Stars had chances to kill off the Ethiopiansin the final 10 minutes with two brilliant chances.
First, the impressive Dennis Odhiambo thundered a shot from 20 yards out which keeper Assefa tipped over the bar for a corner before Olunga missed a chance for a brace one on one with the keeper.
The Japan-based forward won the ball and dribbled his way into the box, but he placed his shot inches wide with only keeper Assefa to beat.