CAIRO, Egypt, Jun 24 – Despite an improved second half performance, Kenya’s Harambee Stars fell 2-0 to Algeria in their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Group C opening match at the June 30 Stadium in Cairo on Sunday night.
Baghdad Bounedjah scored from the penalty spot before Riyad Mahrez’s deflected strike handed Algeria victory with a well worked first half performance.
Stars had a shambolic first half, one to forget and one in which they gifted the North Africans so many fouls with both fullbacks Philemon Otieno and Abud Omar going into the referee’s book within the opening 25 minutes.
With Joash Onyango out with a twisted ankle from yesterday’s training and Brian Mandela out for three months with an operated knee, head coach Sebastien Migne threw youngster Joseph Okumu into the deep end for his first competitive debut having played in the friendly games against Madagascar and DR Congo.
Stars seemed jittered and Algeria started off better and came close as early as the second minute when Bounedjah raced onto a long ball and took an effort with his first touch, but it went wide.
Mahrez had his first sniff at goal in the 13th minute when he stood over a freekick after Bounedjah was fouled by Abud at the edge of the box, but the Manchester City winger wrapped his freekick just wide off target.
Youcef Bellaili lined up Algeria’s next chance when he struck a powerful shot from the edge of the box after being played through by Sofian Feghouli. Patrick Matasi in Kenya’s goal spilled the effort but luckily for him Musa Mohammed whacked the ball away.
Mahrez had another effort with a freekick from range but it went inches wide with Matasi caught off his guard.
For all the fouls Kenya were giving away, they paid the ultimate price when Dennis Odhiambo brought down Youce Atal inside the box.
Bounedjah stepped up from the spot and with Matasi going down early, he sent the ball the opposite direction to break the deadlock.
Mahrez then made it 2-0 just before the break when his shot from inside the box deflected off Omar, taking it off keeper Matasi’s path and into the net.
Stars had struggled to create in the opening half and the only chances they had at goal was through Ayub Timbe and Eric Johanna whose shots from the left were of little trouble to the Algerian keeper.
In the second half, coach Migne pulled out Francis Kahata for Eric Ouma while Johannah also came off for Eric Johannah as Kenya brought in an improved performance.
However, their hunt for goals could not bear fruit with the closest being a Michael Olunga backheel that was blocked off a Timbe cross from the right.
Stars will turn their guns on East Africa neighbors Tanzania who they face at the same venue next Thursday while Algeria face Senegal in a top of the table clash.