Like a champion boxer who rises up each time he gets knocked down to eventually win his bout with a knockout, Kenya pulled no punches to edge Tanzania 3-2 in a thrilling Group ‘C’ clash at the 30 June Stadium in Cairo that kept them in the hunt for a historic second round appearance.
The manner in which Kenya conjured up this victory will have raised hopes of the team progressing further in the tournament, but also stirred up apprehension of whether the Kenyan boys can really compete at the highest level in Africa.
A contradictory analogy yes, but one that is seemingly defining Harambee Stars here in Egypt.
Against Algeria in their first match on July 23, Kenya were woeful in the first half but put up a strong display in the second in the 1-0 loss.
Against Tanzania on Thursday, the team conceded two cheap goals that should never have been with more disciplined positioning and read of play.
The first arose when Tanzania won the ball deep in their half. Right back Hassan Ramadhani then sent a long punt to an unmarked Mbwana Samatta who raced clear to test Kenya goalie Patrick Matasi with a pile-drive that was parried back into play. Simon Msuva reacted quickest to tap the loose ball home.
Tanzania’s second again came from the rightwing, Samatta allowed to steal away to drive the ball home from the edge of the danger area. Why Kenya gave the dangerous Genk striker so much space and time earlier on, only they know.
He was later kept quiet with the ever improving Joseph Okumu given the license to close him down at all costs. If you make mistakes you get punished, Stars were quickly learning that.
And the way they responded each time they fell behind, was a script taken from Hollywood.
Olunga, voted man-of-the-match, showed his quality in this game, displaying great invention to slam the ball in with an overhead effort in a crowded six-yard box for Kenya to restore parity.
That lasted only a minute before Samatta struck again for a Tanzanian 2-1 half time lead.
“I told the team never give up. You have a privilege to be here. At least we need to play,” Kenya coach Sebastien Migne reveals.
Kenya began the second half on top and stayed there. They were duly rewarded for their enterprise. First Johanna Omollo headed in to lock the scores at 2-2 after a training ground corner move between Ayub Timbe and Aboud Omar that the Tanzanians failed to read.
With Kenya chasing the win, Olunga once again turned up getting on the end of a flowing move orchestrated by second half substitute Eric Johanna, who had a splendid game. He cut in and had the composure to pick his spot from just outside the box with Tanzanian legs snapping at his heels.
“Senegal will be another team. We will have a good dinner and start thinking of Senegal,” said Migne.
Stars can be hopeful but they will need to improve to stand any chance of getting a result against Africa’s top ranked team.