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In a match that will be remembered not for a master stroke of the winning hosts but the glaring errors of the officials that swapped glee for gloom, the Kenyan men national soccer team Harambee Stars edged out Zambia’s Chipolopolo 2-1 in an international friendly staged at the re-opened Nyayo National Stadium.
This was the first football match in Kenya in a record seven months, the Ministry of Health giving the organizers a clean bill after intense lobbying by stakeholders led by Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and serious consideration of all the Covid-19 protocols.
The confirmation of the match, though just a friendly tie that was downplayed by some, breathed life into the nation, Kenya smiled again.
Fans were locked out of the stadium but a vast majority followed minute by minute proceedings from the comfort of their homes on live television, Twitter a key player in airing the reactions of the fans.
Harambee Stars head coach Francis Kimanzi fielded a new-look side that included Ian Otieno between the sticks, debutant Baraka Badi in the right back position, regulars Kenneth Muguna, Brian Mandela, Cliff Nyakeya and Joash Onyango who donned the armband. Barnsley FC’s Clarke Oduor started on the bench.
Harambee Stars was without the services of captain Victor Wanyama, lanky centerback Joseph Okumu, pacy winger Ayub Timbe and lethal striker Michael Olunga who is a runway leader on the top scoring chats in Japan J1 league, with 21 goals, 21 games into the 34-match season.
Attacking midfielder Cliff Nyakeya who plies his trade with Egypt’s Al Masr was the man to watch for Kenya, threatening right from the onset to force an opener from Chipolopolo defender Tandi Mwape who converted into his own net to give Kenya a much deserved lead in the 19th minute.
The 25-year-old former Mathare United talisman was back eight minutes to the interval, finishing a quick counter attack to give Stars a comfortable 2-0 lead headed into the break and that was just that.
Zambia came from the break determined to secure a win, going full blast at the Harambee Stars goal, the hosts all but coyed.
The Zambian onslaught paid off in the 81st minute as Emmnauel Chabule halved the deficit to set up a momentous finish to the game.
The 2012 African Cup of Nations champions were back a couple of minutes later in bid to level the scores, but the ball was ‘cleared off the line’ in what the visitors termed as an open goal denied, with video replays seemingly in agreement.
That was it and Kenya won 2-1 against Zambia, a match that was officiated by a Kenyan referee, a Kenyan linesman and a Kenyan lineswoman.
But even as a country that is ranked 109 by the World’s Football governing body FIFA defeated the one-time African champions that are ranked 96, the manner in which the win was registered instills fear than confidence.
Gor Mahia top fan Jaro Soja who was in attendance was far from convinced by the win.
“We played a good game in the first half. The second half we played nothing. He (Kimanzi) could have let the team be as it was in the first half. We could have beaten Chipolopolo a lot of goals. There is nothing we have played in the second half,” noted Jaro Soja.
In his post-match submissions, Chipolopolo head coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojević was far from pleased by the performance of the match days’ officials, drumming support for the need of the video assistants referee (VAR) in African football.
“What we have come for we got. We have tested 17 players. We have seen what they are capable of and this was the main measurement point. Sometimes you can lose a game but inside yourself you have a sweet taste. We have dominated and over dominated the team of Kenya at their home. We scored a genuine goal and all those that are talking about the VAR not being needed in football, got the answer today because this is comedy,” charged the 51-year-old Serbian tactician.
Seasoned football writer Jeff Kinyanjui took to social media moments after the game to caution on the danger posed by using local match officials that end up making seemingly biased decisions in matches of such stature.
“Harambee Stars won, yes credit to the entire team. But, with all due respect and with no malice whatsoever from my end, we need to assign foreign referees for these friendly matches that we host at home. Otherwise very soon no team will accept those invites,” Kinyanjui wrote on his Facebook page.
Harambee Stars won, yes credit to the entire team. But, with all due respect and with no malice whatsoever from my end,…
2021 African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Comoros are first approaching, and now it is up to coach Francis Kimanzi to ensure his side is capable of a convincing win lest Micho’s observations from Nyayo will be well justified and amplified.