Kenya could not have asked for a worse start to the Tusker Cecafa Challenge Cup going down 2-0 to Malawi in a Group C tie at the National Stadium on Monday.
John Banda shocked Harambee Stars in the 23rd minute with an assured finish against the run of play before captain Josephy Kamwando put in a penalty in the 66th minute.
It immediately brought back the nightmares of last year’s event when Kenya again lost to Malawi 3-2 in their opening match to eventually bow out in the preliminary round with three straight losses.
Kenya coach Francis Kimanzi was naturally disappointed but remained upbeat of progressing from a tough pool that also has Ethiopia and African Cup of Nations-bound Sudan.
“We did not deserve this loss and the boys will be down. But it is over now and we have to think of the next fixture. We still have two matches to go and can qualify,” Kimanzi said.
Bullish Malawi coach Kinnah Phiri said he was looking to go far in the competition.
“Last year there was something wrong. This year I have younger players who want to prove themselves and we want to do better,” he said.
Kenya play Ethiopia on Wednesday in a match they have to win or stare at another embarrassing elimination.
Ethiopia came from behind to draw with Sudan in the earlier match of the day while Uganda blanked Somalia 4-0 to regain top spot in Group B.
Kenya started in confident fashion, passing the ball around but did not have any real cut in their attack. Forwards Bob Mugalia, Paul Were and Kevin Kimani hardly troubled the Malawi defence.
The first real chance of the game fell to Kenya in the 13th minute but Titus Mulama could not squeeze his shot past heavy traffic in the area.
Good movement by Kenya directed by the increasingly influential Jamal Mohammed, who played his heart out, set up Kimani in a good position but he shot feebly and Malawi keeper Charles Swini gratefully gathered.
Then against the run of play John Banda scored for the Warriors on 27 minutes with a well struck half volley as the Kenyan defence line reacted slowly to the danger.
Kenya kept up their purposeful play but the much they could show in this half was Kimani’s long range effort that whistled just wide in the 38th minute.
It then went horribly wrong for Kenya in the 61st minute when veteran Duncan Ochieng, plucked back from international wilderness by Kimanzi, mistimed his charge and ended rugby tackling the opposition.
Kamwando stepped up for the spot kick to send Ochieng the wrong way. The results may have looked unfair to Kenya but the team that took its chances went away with the victory.