Kenya/Comoros: Dimming Harambee Stars Face Game of Their Lives in Moroni

13 November 2020

Harambee Stars chances of qualifying for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations appear slim, and especially with Michael Olunga's absence.

Kenya drew 1-1 with Comoros at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, on Wednesday night without Olunga who is holed up in his house in Hitachi, Japan, in self-isolation after unnamed members of his Kashiwa Reysol team tested positive for coronavirus.

"We struggled in attack. We created many chances especially in the second half but couldn't put them away," confessed Stars captain Victor Wanyama, who had an effort cleared off the line in the second half.

In Olunga's absence, Masoud Juma held brief as the team's main striker and the former Kariobangi Sharks forward struggled in the first half, barely having a sniff at goal.

Wasteful Masud

The vastly improved Cliff Nyakeya, now based at Al Masr in Egypt, had Kenya's best chance of the opening stanza but Comoros keeper Ahamada Ali, who stood out in this game, parried the fierce shot away from goal.

Juma, who is quicker and more mobile but less lethal compared to Olunga, came to life in the second half with probing attacks and scored a brilliant goal off Nyakeya's assist and Eric Johanna's brilliant work on the right wing.

But the 25-year-old striker again missed a sitter that the left-footed Olunga would perhaps have buried with his eyes closed moments later as he hesitated to meet an inch perfect through pass from Johanna Omollo, preferring to first control the ball when a first time shot would have sufficed.

To further underline Olunga's importance to the national team, the lanky forward scored Kenya's goal in that 1-1 draw against Egypt in Alexandria last November as Kenya, then under coach Francis Kimanzi, got off to an impressive start in this competition.

He also scored twice when Kenya beat Tanzania 3-2 at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt and was heavily involved in the vital goal when Kenya downed Ghana 1-0 in Nairobi last year in a qualifier.

He also scored against Sierra Leone and twice versus Ethiopia during that period, and is the leading scorer in Japan's top-flight league with 21 goals, adding to his tally of about a goal in every other game for the national team.

Put simply without him, Stars resemble an aged man walking without a stick.

Yet he is set to miss the Kenya's reverse fixture against Comoros in Moroni on Sunday.

"We leave for Moroni on Friday (today) with confidence. We have a chance of getting a result over there. I plan to work on a few things and possibly shuffle a few things before then and at least I now know what to expect from the boys and the opponents," said Stars coach Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee.

Stretched midfield

Besides Olunga, Mulee has to work on the team's passing and cohesion which looked out of sorts against Comoros in the opening half.

His central midfield comprising Wanyama and Omollo at times appeared stretched especially while on defensive mode and requires fine tuning.

Winger Ayub Timbe, if accorded a second chance on the left side of attack, will have to improve on his decision making and passing to compliment his exceptional dribbling skills.

Perhaps too, Mulee should consider handing John Avire and Kenneth Muguna chances in the striking department and attacking midfield respectively in this must-win duel against a vastly improved Comoros who have 90 percent of their players playing in France.

David 'Calabar' Owino performed far better than Samuel Olwande at the right hand side of defence and should retain his position.

Meanwhile, Egypt and Togo, Kenya's other opponents for a qualification spot will meet in Lome on Friday and Kenyans will be hoping both teams, currently ranked below Kenya in her qualification group, share the spoils.

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