Harambee Stars to face Walya Antelopes

By Rodgers Eshitemi: Thursday, October 11th 2018 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Football
Harambee Stars Captain Mohamed Musa (third right) lead his team to acknowledge fans' cheers before match kickoff against Ghana during African Cup of Nations Qualifier match at Moi Sports Centre Kasarani. Sept 8, 2018. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Defensive Kenya are three points away from making a return to the Africa Cup of Nations finals after frustrating Ethiopia to a barren draw in yesterday’s crucial Group F first leg match at a fully packed 60,000-seater Bahir Dar Stadium, in  Addis Ababa.

With Sierra Leone suspended, Harambee Stars, who last featured in the continental show-piece in 2004, now need to win against the Walya Antelopes in Sunday’s return leg at Kasarani to secure a ticket to next year’s finals in Cameroon with a game to spare.

The result saw Kenya leapfrog Ghana at the top of the table with four points.

Though Sebastiene Migné’s men looked a bit intimidated by the hostile away crowd, they held their nerve to pick up a vital point.

Ethiopia started off the brighter side earning the first corner in the opening minute, but the Brian Mandela-led Kenyan defence did well to avert the danger.

Harambee Stars responded immediately with Ethiopia goalkeeper Samson Asefa parrying away Kashiwa Reysol striker Michael Olunga’s header for a fruitless corner.

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The Walya Antelopes then launched a counter-attack, but the Kenyan defence was equal to the task.

Ethiopia threatened again through a free kick in the 15th minute after Francis Kahata fouled Dawa Hotesa, but Beneyam Demte’s long range effort bounced off target.

Kenya came close in the 19th minute when Olunga forced a fine save from the keeper after being released through goal by Kahata before Stars custodian Patrick Matasi came off his line to deny Ethiopia a counter-attack scoring chance.

Moments later, Abdulkerim Adem miscued his shot from the right flank. The visitors could have taken the lead in the 25th minute but Eric Johana’s shot painfully  missed target by a whisker after a brilliant lay-off by captain Victor Wanyama before the keeper pulled off a fine save from Ovella Ochieng’s attempt.

Bekele Godo, who was a thorn in Kenya’s defence, nearly broke the deadlock on the half hour mark when he received a pass then dribbled around a group of defenders into the box, but he shot into the side-netting before Musa Mohamed made a fantastic tackle to keep Harambee Stars in the game.

Kenya thought to have taken the lead on the stroke of halftime only for Olunga’s goal to be disallowed.

On restart, Migné’ made a tactical change bringing on Spanish-based defensive midfielder Ismail Gonzalez for attacking Eric Johanna.

Godo threatened again, making a brilliant run into the box, but his effort deflected off a Kenyan defender for a corner kick before left back Eric Ouma came on for the injured Abud Omar.

Kenya survived a scare on the hour mark, when towering defender Gathuoch Panom’s goal-bound header from a corner-kick was blocked by Gonzalez.

Godo then beat Kenya’s offside trap, but his shot agonisingly hit the left-post with Matasi well-beaten as Ethiopia intensified their attack.

Ethiopia earned another free kick in a dangerous position mid-way through the second half but Matasi came off his line to punch the ball way to safety before captain Kebede Gibeto missed a diving header from close range.

Kahata would pave way for speedy winger Paul Were in the 73rd minute as Kenya worked tirelessly to keep the Ethiopians at bay.

The hosts continued to pile the pressure on Kenya’s back-line, with Panom’s shot from Godo’s quickly taken free kick going wide before Matasi pulled off another magnificent save to deny Kebede.

Kenya survived a late scare when Dukele Hotessa’s 82nd minute goal was ruled offside before Olunga’s shot was deflected for a corner in the opposite end.

Paul Were then made a brilliant run on the right flank only for his effort on the byline to be blocked by one of the Ethiopian defenders.