Harambee Stars path to Afcon is now more complicated after another draw at home
Harambee Stars and Comoros players during Group G match of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at Kasarani stadium. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

National team’s path to Afcon narrower after another draw

No room for error as Harambee Stars travel to Comoros seeking first win in Group G

While Stars need at least a win and must avoid defeats in the remaining three games against Comoros, Egypt (March 22 2021) and Togo (March 30 2021), they need to pray their opponents drop points so that things fall in place for them.

Harambee Stars qualification for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals appears unlikely after being frustrated to a 1-1 draw by 10-man Comoros on Wednesday at Kasarani Stadium.

Algerian-based striker Masud Juma cancelled out Comoros captain Youssouf M’changama’s first half wonder goal to help Kenya secure their third consecutive 1-1 draw in the qualifiers.

Though Stars’ path to Cameroon now looks narrower, their second position in Group G (three points), after Match Day Three — two points behind leaders Comoros — gives them some hope of making it to the continental finals for the second time in a row.

But the situation has been made complex by the fact that Harambee Stars have drawn all their opening three games with an identical scoreline of 1-1.

And it appears Kenya have failed to capitalise on their home advantage as two of the stalemates have been in their backyard (Kasarani) against Togo and Comoros.

Of course Stars could finish in any position from first to fourth depending on their own results and elsewhere starting with Sunday’s tricky return leg in Moroni.

Harambee Stars path to Afcon is now more complicated after another draw at home
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]

With only the top two teams progressing from each group and the qualification ranking-system based on the head-to-head model, Stars must avoid defeat in Moroni by all means.

While Stars need at least a win and avoid defeats in the remaining three games against Comoros, Egypt (March 22 2021) and Togo (March 30 2021), they need to pray their opponents drop points so that things fall in place for them.

Third-placed Egypt (two points) welcome Togo in Cairo tomorrow in round three of the qualifiers before travelling to Lome for the reverse fixture on November 17.

But going by their relatively unconvincing performance on Wednesday night, Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee and his boys know they have their work cut out in the next five months.

There is no room for error. But it also depends on how well Mulee will convince and motivate a team he recently inherited from Francis Kimanzi.

Stars were a pale shadow of their former selves for the better part of the game and only tried to liven up after Comoros’ M’changama was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 40th minute.

They looked disjointed in the first half as they lacked intensity and struggled to string passes more so in their own half, hence inviting pressure from the well-organised Islanders.

Comoros then capitalised on Kenya’s sluggish defending to take the lead through M’changama’s 25th minute free kick from 30 yards that wrong-footed goalkeeper Arnold Origi.

Kenya had their chances mostly in the second half but their profligacy in front of goal cost them the three points. This is a game they could, and should, have won easily.

Though Masud finally scored in the 65th minute after being isolated and starved of the ball for the better part of the match as Mulee preferred his charges to operate from the flanks, it is evident Michael Olunga’s absence was felt upfront.

The attack-line lacked composure and mostly fell short without purpose in prime areas.

Stars attempted to create overloads on the wings through Ayub Timbe and Cliff Nyakeya against Comoros, but they mostly encountered the static full-backs with one of the central midfielders to quash their threats. 

Combined with goalkeeper Ali Ahamada’s impressive performance, the visitors remained incredibly compact until the final whistle.

Harambee Stars also lacked creativity in the midfield — the link between the midfield and attack.

With captain Victor Wanyama and Johanna Omolo sitting deep, there was no one to move the ball faster to the strikers.

This is a role Gor Mahia midfielder Kenneth Muguna could have performed better.

Though Mulee seems to have got his substitutions right, he should have brought in the attacking trio of John Makwata, Abdallah Hassan and Boniface Muchiri a bit earlier.

David ‘Calabar’ Owino solidified the defence when he replaced right back Samwel Olwande before the restart.

But the visitors will have their goalkeeper to thank for the vital away point after the Brann (Norway) custodian kept them in the game with a series of astonishing saves.

Elsewhere, Sadio Mane made a successful return for Senegal as they beat Guinea Bissau 2-0 to edge closer to Africa Cup of Nations qualification.

Mane, who missed Senegal’s friendly against Morocco last month opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

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