Harambee Stars’ training as they prepare for the upcoming back to back 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Mali at Utalii College Sports Club on Friday, October 1, 2921. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Harambee Stars hopes of qualifying for their first ever World Cup are almost over after their crushing 5-0 defeat to Mali on Thursday night.

The defeat leaves Kenya third in Group E with two points as the West Africans take charge of the group with seven points followed by Uganda with five points after their 1-0 away win to Rwanda on the same day.

Kenya headed into the match in need of a win after previously drawing in their two opening matches against Rwanda (1-1) and Uganda (0-0) but that never happened. 

Instead, they shipped in 1,2,3,4,5 goals with the rampant Les Aigles exposing head coach Engin Firat’s tactical inadequacies.

From fielding Simba SC defender Joash Onyango on the right back instead of his natural centre half position to deploying left-footed Abud Omar on the right back after the early substitution of Onyango, the Firat-led technical bench looked like they were gambling. 

But generally, nothing seemed to work for the team as their attack appeared blunt, while both the defence and goalkeeping departments were erroneous. 

And it is because of Stars’ shambolic defending and goalkeeping that Ibrahima Kone easily scored a hat-trick in the first half before Adama Traore and Moussa Doumbia completed the rout. 

But the biggest question is, did Football Kenya Federation’s decision to replace Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee with the Turkish given his poor track record in his previous work stations like Moldova send Kenya to its own grave yard?

FKF just shot themselves in the foot when they unceremoniously fired Mulee in the middle of a World Cup campaign. He had started building the team’s chemistry and was enjoying a six match unbeaten run.

With a contract of two months, Firat gambled with his line up in the qualifiers match staged at Stade Adrar in Agadir, Morocco.

This begs another question, who came up with the line up? Did he involve his two assistants Ken Odhiambo and William Muluya who are more familiar with the team or did the outside forces influence his final decisions?

Firat’s line upfaced backlash from fans on social media after he played some experienced players out of position and benched natural wingers.

It was a grave mistake to start Onyango on right back where he endured a torrid time against a pacy Southampton winger Moussa Djenepo, while benching the natural right back Daniel Sakari.

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The Simba SC player could have partnered Joseph Okumu, but it was the inexperienced Johnstone Omurwa who was preferred.

Kenya had no natural winger, all were benched, with Henry Meja and Michael Olunga the only attackers. Abud Omar, a left back, and Eric Ouma exchanged roles on the left flank until Eric Zakayo came on for Lawrence Juma.

Furthermore, Firat made a shocking early double substitutions in the 30th minute when he replaced Onyango with Hassan Abdallah, a winger at full back and introducing an inexperienced Eric Zakayo forr Lawrence Juma.

By that time, Kenya were already trailing 2-0 at the time and the two substitutions made no difference but worsened the situation as they went on to concede two more goals; with one goal coming courtesy of a penalty after Hassan’s reckless tackle in the area. 

Firat gamble with the squad was even more evident at the start of the second half when he replaced Ian Otieno with Farouk Shikalo.

New Harambee Stars Coach Engin Firat at a press conference in Nairobi. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Otieno who turns out for Zambian giants Zesco United has been touted as the incumbent for the number one jersey but his performance was not convincing after conceding four goals in the first half.

Shikhalo came in and ended up conceding a cheap goal as the East Africans suffered an embarrassing loss.

It was the same case in the midfield where former captain Victor Wanyama and Johana Omollo’s absence was heavily felt.

The Eagles, who have no national football league running in their country, had a walk in the park dispossessing Kenya with ease with Kenneth Muguna, youthful Richard Odada and Lawrence Juma chasing their opponents’ shadow.

In summary, Harambee Stars played with no plan. Kenya were a pale shadow of themselves compared to the last two qualifiers where they defended well and played on the offensive with much authority despite not scoring many goals.

The team needs to play every player in their position and not try out players like in friendly games if they are to stand a chance of beating Mali in tomorrow’s return leg in Nairobi. Kenya jetted back into the country yesterday afternoon via a charted flight.

 

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