Olunga strikes as Harambee Stars hold Pharaohs of Egypt
Harambee Stars, against all odds, overcame poor preparations and injury setbacks to hold mighty Pharaohs of Egypt 1-1 away in Alexandria with Michael Olunga netting the all-important goal in a fascinating 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers opener.
Mahmoud Abdelhamid Soliman scored for the hosts at the peak of the opening half, but the spirit to share the spoils was not extinguished amongst the Stars.
A 41st minute miscalculated back-pass by Gor Mahia midfielder Lawrence Juma, who was making his debut in the senior team in a competitive match, cost Kenyans dearly as Soliman dodged past an advancing Ian Otieno in Stars goal to slot the ball in an empty net, before Olunga intervened later on.
Though playing away from home, the Stars were brave and could have snatched a win with winger Ayub Timbe being denied in the 22nd minute by the Egyptian goalie after dancing his way past several markers to unleash a pin-point shot.
Stars looked comfortable against the hosts especially after soaking the initial stages pressure.
Coach Francis Kimanzi was however forced to make a fifth minute substitution when St. George’s goalkeeper Patrick Matasi was injured, bringing on Zambia based Otieno, denting his match plan.
Still, speedy winger Timbe would not last beyond half an hour, as the Beijing Renhe man sustained an injury forcing another change. This time round, Kimanzi trusted youthful Cliff Nyakeya who formerly played under him at Mathare United before crossing borders to Egypt, to step into Timbe’s big boots.
Apart from Juma, Samuel Olwande was making his debut too for the senior side in a competitive duel, and did not disappoint in a right-back position that appears to have lacked stability for long.
Playing in an empty stadium, Egypt only made three meaningful attempts in the first half, and were successful in unlocking Kenya’s defence only four minutes to the end of first half.
Abdallah Saleh, Tarek Ahmed and Soliman all threatened, but Joash Onyango, Joseph Stanley Okumu and a determined Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma stood tall in manning Kenya’s goal.
Kenya had come close when a free-kick just outside the box courtesy of Nyakeya’s industry, hit the wall to bounce back in Olunga’s path whose powerful shot hit the wall to agonisingly bounce out for a corner.
Upon resumption, Mahmoud Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan needed only a minute to test Otieno, the latter calmly holding onto his low drive to the right corner.
Well threaded passes at the hour mark involving Johanna Omollo and Olunga almost gave Stars an equaliser, but the Kashiwa Reysol man shot could not penetrate the forest of legs of the Pharaohs in their box.
Kimanzi tossed his last dice in the 62nd, throwing Gor captain Kenneth Muguna into the fray, as Belgium based Omollo paved way.
His opposite number responded two minutes later, introducing Mohammed Naser Elsayed for Magdy Mohammed Moursey.
But, it is Kimanzi’s change that worked almost immediately. Exactly in the 67th minute, a back-pass by Mohamed Elneny to captain Ahmed Fathi put him under pressure in his own box, as a hardworking Nyakeya dispossessed him to set up Olunga who wasted no time in driving in a low shot to the bottom right corner.
With only nine minutes to go, Kenya escaped narrowly from the Pharaohs onslaught, a melee in the box bearing a series of ping-pongs that included saving from the line twice both by goalkeeper Otieno, Olwande and Okumu.
It was getting messy as the clock fast ticked towards full time, and a challenge on Olunga saw him limp off before returning to fight for the share of spoils.
Kenya thus boats of an important away point ahead of their Monday clash with visitors Togo, at the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani while Comoros top the group after beating Togo 1-0 in the other match.
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