Comoros 2-1 Kenya: Harambee Stars' AFCON hopes up in smoke
Harambee Stars Brian Mandela heads ball past Comoros Yusuf Ali during Group G match of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at Kasarani stadium. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Harambee Stars’ dreams of qualifying for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations finals went up in smoke after falling 2-1 to Comoros in Sunday’s return leg tie at Malouzini Stadium in Moroni.

Egypt-based winger Cliff Nyakeya had cancelled out Red Star Belgrade forward El-fardou Mohammed’s opener in the 35th minute only for Mattoir Faiz to score five minutes into the second half to help the Islanders solidify their chances of qualifying for the continental finals in Cameroon.

The victory saw Comoros take their points tally to eight and leapfrog Egypt at the top of Group G as Kenya dropped to the third spot with three points.

Egypt, who narrowly beat Togo 1-0 in the first leg encounter in Cairo on Saturday, are set to face-off with the West African side in the reverse fixture in Lome on Tuesday.

Kenya complicated their back-to-back Afcon qualification chances after being frustrated to a 1-1 draw by ten men Comoros in Nairobi last Wednesday.

Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee’s boys now have a huge mountain to climb as they must beat Egypt (March 22 2021) and Togo (March 30 21) as well pray their opponents drop points for them to qualify for the finals.

Kenya had a half chance in the 17th minute but Joseph Okumu’s glancing header from Ayub Timbe’s corner kick went wide before Eric Ouma did well to stop El-Fardou Mohamed on the opposite end.

However, industrious El-Fardou, who was a thorn in the Kenyan defence, finally broke the deadlock when he easily headed a pinpoint cross from the left flank.

But goalkeeper Arnold Origi will have himself to blame as he failed to come off his line to gather the ball. Unlike the first leg’s astonishing free kick at Kasarani Stadium by the suspended Youssouf M’changama, Origi had a chance to thwart the Red Star Belgrade forward ‘s effort last night.

Kenya responded immediately with Timbe earning a corner but Cliff Nyakeya’s attempt was blocked by self-sacrificing defender.

Brian Mandela then saw his long range effort comfortably gathered by the Comoros goalkeeper Ben Boina on the half hour mark before Lawrence Juma scuffed his shot at the edge of the box.

Okumu error almost led to another goal, but Origi reacted fast to thwart the threat in the before Nyakeya drew level in the 36th minute.

Mulee then made an early tactical change in the 41st minute by bringing in Gor Mahia captain Kenneth Muguna for his former club mate Lawrence Juma. Muguna’s impact was felt immediately as he initiated a counter-attack with his first tough on the ball only for Timbe’s attempt to be deflected for a fruitless corner.

Comoros regained the lead five minutes into the second half when Mattoir Faiz latched onto the pass on the right channel, drove into the box before unleashing a powerful shot past a hapless Origi.

Timbe could have drawn level but the former Reading winger blasted his shot wide before he paved way for Boniface Muchiri on the hour mark.

In Cairo Egypt, Mohamed Salah-less Egypt scored through defender Mahmoud el Wensh to edge Togo 1-0 in Cairo Saturday and kick-start a 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign.

Prolific Liverpool scorer Salah sat out the Togo clash after testing positive for Covid-19 when he arrived in Cairo for international duty and a subsequent test produced a similar result.

Apart from missing back-to-back matches against Togo, he could also be ruled out of the next two matches for his club, against leaders Leicester City in the Premier League and Atalanta in the Champions League.

Salah has shown no symptoms of coronavirus and Egyptian Football Association medical staff have been in contact with counterparts at Liverpool.

The two-time African Footballer of the Year award winner has had an unlucky Cup of Nations campaign having suffered an injury against Kenya last November, which ruled him out of a match in the Comoros.

El Wensh — also known as Mahmoud Hamdy and Mahmoud Attia — beat goalkeeper Malcolm Barcola on 54 minutes with a header from point-blank range after Togo failed to clear a softly-awarded free-kick.

It sufficed to give record seven-time African champions Egypt a first win in Group G after draws with Kenya and the Comoros.

The Pharaohs will face Togo again in Lome tomorrow before visiting Kenya and hosting the Comoros next March, and the group winners and runners-up qualify for the 24-nation tournament in Cameroon.

Togo, who are guided by legendary French coach Claude le Roy, can draw encouragement from having most of the possession after falling behind in Cairo.

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