Harambee Stars started the final race for South Africa 2010 on a wrong footing, going down 2-1 to Tunisia at a sold-out Coca-Cola National Stadium on Saturday.
The Tunisians benefited from two pieces of slack play by Kenya to score either half through Jamal Amar in the fifth minute and Issam Jemaa in the 72nd minute. Kenya pulled one goal back through top striker Dennis Oliech in the 68th minute.
The Carthage Eagles now go top of the table in Group Two. Their position may change on Sunday depending on the outcome of the match between Mozambique and Nigeria who clash in Maputo in the other group tie of the weekend.
Nigeria up next
The next round of matches three months away when Kenya face Nigeria away on June 6 before hosting Mozambique a fortnight later in Nairobi.
Stars coach Antoine Hey employed a 5-3-2 formation and looked to have contained the Tunisians but for the two blunders that were decisively punished.
As the heavens opened making the pitch slippery, Amar benefited from a slip by Pascal Ochieng in the box to turn neatly and beat Noah Ayuko from close range.
A swift counter by Kenya involving Musa Otieno and Patrick Oboya created an opportunity for Oliech, closely watched all evening by Birmingham City defender Raidhi Jaidi, to score the equaliser and his fifth of the campaign.
The ecstatic crowd had hardly calmed down when Jemaa dispossessed Robert Mambo to race clear before calmly beating the advancing Ayuko.
The scoreline showed the difference between the two sides. Tunisian got two chances from nothing and took them while Kenya dominated possession and territorial play but could not put in the important items.
Tunisia had the rock solid Jaidi to thank for, rarely putting his foot wrong against the menace of Oliech but for one occasion when, under pressure, he played a back pass that beat his keeper Hamdi Kasraoui, rolling centimeters wide.
Mulinge Munandi, John Njoroge, Musa Otieno, George Owino and Musa Otieno played in the five-man defence with Macdonald Mariga, Hillary Echesa and Robert Mambo in midfield. This left Dennis Oliech and Francis Ouma as the strike force.
While Ouma, the KPL top goal scorer last season, never really got into the game, Oliech was the more prominent attacker, denied a clear shot on goal by the hawk-eyed Jaidi in the 12th minute as Kenya chased the game.
A minute later Mambo looped the ball to Oliech but his header, on the run, was just wide as the rattled Tunisian escaped another scare.
The Eagles however withered the onslaught and it was inevitable Hey would make changes. Tanzania premier league current top scorer Boniface Ambani was introduced in the second half for Hillary Echesa, Patrick Oboya for Francis Ouma, and Victor Mugabe for John Njoroge.
It paid dividends soon after, Musa Otieno winning possession in midfield to release Oboya on the left wing. The Siad Most forward picked Oliech in the box for a text book finish.
Kenya looked on the ascend only to lose concentration as Mambo got dispossessed by the speedy Jemaa, and with no one home for the Stars, the Lens striker raced clear to break the hearts of the over 30,000 fans at Coca-Cola just like he did in 2005 when Tunisia were victorious 2-0.
Line-ups: Kenya – Noah Ayuko, Mulinge Munandi, John Njoroge (Victor Mugabe), George Owino, Pascal Ochieng, Musa Otieno, Robert Mambo, Macdonald Mariga, Hillary Echesa (Boniface Ambani), Robert Mambo, Dennis Oliech, Francis Ouma (Patrick Oboya).
Tunisia – Hamdi Kasraoni, Anis Boussaidi, Jemel Ammar, Haggui Karim, Jaidi Raidhi, Ragued Hocine, Benyaha Ouissen, Demai Aimen (Darragi Ousama), Belaid Tijani (Ali Zutouni), Benkhalfallah Fahid (Gherieni Ali), Isam Jemaa.