Last updated 7 months ago | By Rodgers Eshitemi
For the first time in many competitive matches, national football team Harambee Stars produced a remarkable performance on Thursday night.
The Kenyans forced giants Egypt to a famous 1-1 draw in the opening Group G match of the 2021 Africa Nations Cup qualifiers in Alexandria.
After a slow start coupled by suspected knee injuries to key players, goalkeeper Patrick Matasi and winger Ayub Timbe, Stars defied the off the field issues to frustrate the record African champions at their own back yard.
Focus now shifts to Monday’s second group match at Kasarani Stadium against the wounded Sparrow Hawks of Togo, who fell 1-0 to lowly-ranked Comoros in the opening round of the qualifiers in Lome. Stars are expected to arrive back today from Cairo.
A win for Stars on Monday night will put them in a pole position to secure a ticket to the 2021 continental finals in Cameroon for a the second time in a row ahead of next year’s away fixture to Comoros and home to Egypt.
The Pharaohs will also be on the road to Moroni the same day seeking to register their first win in the group against hosts Comoros.
Once again, Stars coach Francis Kimanzi showed his tactical prowess despite being forced to make early substitutions by bringing on Ian Otieno and Cliff Nyakeya for the injured Matasi and Timbe.
The two never disappointed as they went on to put on some eye catching performances in a game that Kenya should have won if their strikers were more clinical in front of goal.
With no doubt, Stars’ participation at the 2019 Afcon finals and their recent friendlies against Uganda (1-1) and Mozambique (0-1) played a big role in Thursday night result.
Save for Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma’s weak-back pass that saw goalkeeper Otieno fail to clear it thus gifting Mahmoud Kahraba an easy opener on the stroke of halftime, Stars were full of energy and confidence through-out the match.
Stars slick passing, high pressing and never-say-die attitude made the Mohamed Salah-less Egypt look so ordinary.
Stars’ efforts were rewarded midway through the second half when Nyakeya did well to dispossess an under pressure Ahmed Fathy before teeing up Michael Olunga, who made no mistake to score a stunning equaliser.
But it is Gor Mahia midfielder Lawrence Juma’s high work rate and excellent technical ability as well as Kariobangi Sharks right back Samwel Olwande’s impressive defensive display that couldn’t go unnoticed.
The pair was at its best adding up to Joash Onyango’s physicality and Joseph Okumu’s game reading ability, while Eric Johanna and Nyakeya kept the Egyptian backline busy.
The last time Harambee Stars put in such display was way back in March 2013 when they forced three time African champions Nigeria to a 1-1 draw in the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers in Calabar.
Stars were within minutes of bagging the historic win against the Super Eagles only for Nnamdi Oduamadi to cancel out Francis Kahata’s brilliant free-kick in injury time.
Ironically, Stars appear to have secured both draws in Calabar and Alexandaria under the same circumstances (off the pitch issues). It will be a nostalgic moment for Kimanzi against the West Africans.
Kimanzi was fined US$10,000 (Sh850,000) and banned for four matches by the Confederation of African Football (Caf), for allegedly assaulting a match official during Kenya’s 1-0 loss to Togo in an Afcon qualifier match in Lome, in June 2012.