Harambee stars wins but fails to sail through

Harambee stars wins but fails to sail through

Harambee stars wins but fails to sail through

Poor game plan denied Kenya a chance to play at next year’s African championships in Sudan after failing to overcome the Uganda Crane’s jinx despite winning the return leg 2-1 in a hotly contested match at the Nyayo stadium on Sunday evening. Uganda sailed through to their first major international championship in decades on away goal rule having won the first leg 1-0 in Kampala a fortnight ago thus aggregating their tally to 3-2.

The Cranes were the first to find the net in the 7th minute when the URA lethal striker Mike Sserumaga curled a superb free kick around Webo’s wall to send the hundreds of the traveling Ugandan fans into sheer ecstasy. The away goal dampened the mood of the enthusiastic crowd as Harambee stars needed three goals to sail through.

The Star’s efforts to take control of the game during the early exchanges went futile following poor coordination in the midfield .Star’s coach Twahir Muhiddin opted to start with experienced Ramadhan Balala and Edward Kauka in the offensive midfield but the duo showed frailness and lack of creativity in pushing the balls forward and in effect giving The Crane’s Sserumaga controlled midfield an edge over Kenya.

The first quarter of the game exposed the power of technical football with the Crane’s Coach Williamson’s experience coming in handy as his boys soaked in pressure from The Stars. In the 15 minute The Cranes came close to scoring again but Kaweesa’s feeble shot was easily picked by Webo who had a busy day in office.

The Stars seemed to settle after the first quarter but veteran John Baraza failed in more than one occasion to convert clean simple chances when the Stars seemed to have found their footing and heaped pressure on the strong Cranes defense in search of an equalizer. Minutes later Omondi’s run on the right yielded a fabulous low driven cross right onto Baraza’s feet but his sluggish response in the 6 area denied him good control on a ball thus shooting wide much to the dissapointment of the expectant crowd.

 The Cranes  survived the pressure and began enjoying a  swift  passing game  in the midfield looking relaxed and dominated  the match that almost gifted them a 2nd goal in the 30th minute but their efforts were continually thwarted  by ever agile Lawrence Webo.Edgar “Fighter” Ochieng’s marshaled defense appeared to crack under immense pressure allowing open balls to fly through Webo’s goal line further dampening the already tense hopes of thousands of Kenyan fans.

With the tiding slowly turning against The Stars, coach  Muhiddin yielded to the fan’s pressure for Kauka’s substitution bringing him off in the 35th minute for the Sensational Paul Were. Were and Opiyo seemed to combine well for the remainder of the first half as Kenya kept piling pressure on the Ugandan defense.Opiyo’s creative dribble weaved through three Ugandan defenders but slow execution allowed a village clearance by Ugandans for a corner.
The Crane’s defense was up to task and their technical brilliance denied John Baraza any chance of penetrating through the tight wall with their super offside traps.
In the dying minutes of the first half a swift Baraza managed to steal a run through beating the trap,over pacing the Ugandan defense only to be  brought  down right inside the box for lack of a better stop but the referee flagged play on much to the lamentation and infuriation of the Star’s fans and technical bench.

The second half started with the Stars’ technical bench bringing on the darling of the fans George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo.This was the major turning point for Kenya as the two youngsters Paul Were and Blackberry kept tormenting the Ssebo’s (Ugandan for sir/man) with creative speedy moves on both wings.

With 20 minutes to go the sensational Paul Were outclassed the strong masses of Ugandan humans with a Messi like run on the left flank pulling three defenders to the corner who disastrously failed to stop his strong left footed cross for a Baraza tap in. The 1-1 score line meant Kenya needed two more goals to cancel the Ugandan away goal.
In an almost immediate response, Cranes’ Sserumaga’s free kick brilliance almost sank the hearts of Kenyan’s when he curled in a replicate free kick but Webo’s heroism sent a sigh of relief Kenya’s way with a hawk eyed punch for a non dangerous corner.

With the clock ticking the wrong way for The Stars, the Blackberry/Were magic kept haunting the Kampala men who handled the ball in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. The resulting penalty was poorly executed by captain Julius Owino ‘Awilo’ but the quickly taken resultant corner saw Star’s and John Baraza’s second goal which sent heat in the nerves of the soggy Kenyan fans.

Minutes later, George “Blackberry” Odhiambo kept the crowd on their feet when he connected Were’s cross with a superb technical bicycle kick which hit the cross bar. Had it gone in, this could have passed as one of the best goals ever scored in the history of Kenyan football!

Despite piling excessive pressure to the Crane’s half, the last 15 minutes of the game were characterized by rough play and aggressive relations between both teams with the game almost degenerating into a fist play.

Ugandans resulted to time wasting tactics which infuriated the Star’s lads who kept exposing signs of frustration on the pitch with hard tackles. The worst of these scenes was when Edgar fighter Ochieng clutched a Ugandan midfielder after a hard clearance but the referee only gave a foul.

With emotions running high in the dying minutes, verbal exchanges and poor relations in the pitch saw The Cranes reduced to ten men and a few related yellow cards following suit for indecent play and time wasting.

The game ended 2-1 in favor of The Stars but the away goal rule worked against the unlucky Kenyans as the overjoyed Crane’s painted Nyayo stadium yellow at the last whistle when their traveling fans poured into the field in song and dance.

 “Our game plan didn’t work, we hoped to counter their defensive technique and Williamson’s search for an away goal with experience in the first half bringing in Kauka and Balala who unfortunately failed to click. We immediately responded with a technical substitute which worked well but then luck was not on our side. We won but failed to get the needed goals” Those were the words of Senior Harambee stars team manager Edward Oduor after the match.Oduor was full of praise for the youngsters whom he said put up a good account of themselves.

Also speaking to Michezo Afrika after the match was Soccer technical director and experienced Coach Patrick Naggi who praised the youngsters for turning the game around.
“I think it was unfortunate for the boys to concede the goal early in the game. This took away their confidence for a few minutes and their recovery was a bit slow. And then again playing at home the pressure is always high with crowd expectations but I think the boys put up a great game especially the youngsters who have shown their knack for a bright future” commented Naggi.

Harambee Stars next major assignment is the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier where they face a tricky away fixture to Guinea Bissau on 3rd September.The team is pooled in group J alongside Angola,Uganda(again) and Guinea Bissau.