A spirited Harambee Stars on Wednesday held hosts Ethiopia to a scoreless draw to go top of Group “F” in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier played at Bahir Dar stadium.
The draw, the 11th between the two sides in 43 meetings, takes Kenya’s points tally in the group to four, one better than third-placed Ghana after three rounds.
The Walya Antelopes are second on similar points, but could forfeit last month’s 1-0 win over Sierra Leone, who are battling with Fifa to lift their suspension for government interference.
Kenya, who had captain Victor Wanyama and defender Brian Mandela starting in the two changes from the team that edged out Ghana 1-0 last month, hosts Ethiopia in the second leg on Sunday at Kasarani stadium with a win enough to propel the side to the Afcon finals after a 14-year hiatus, should Fifa fail to lift Sierra Leone’s suspension any time soon.
Ethiopia, clad in their yellow and green home colours, started excellently, full of pace and aggressive intent evidenced with a first minute attempt from a corner kick.
Francis Kahata fouled Dukele Dawa 25 yards away from the target at the quarter hour mark, but Gatoch Panom sent the resultant free kick inches wide.
Kenya, for a moment had a cautious approach sitting back to break on the counter and in the 19th minute, Michael Olunga ran into the area onto Eric Johanna’s pass, unleashed a left foot shot that troubled Ethiopia custodian Samson Asefa before his defence cleared their lines.
Ten minutes later, Olunga played in Johanna whose right foot curler veered off the target.
The hosts combined well inside Kenya’s penalty area but Shemeles Bekele hit the side net, before Michael Olunga opened Gambian referee Bakary Gassama’s book with a 36th minute yellow card.
Gor Mahia utility Philemon Otieno followed suit two minutes later.
With three minutes to the halftime break, Ethiopia’s Dukele Dawa was booked for a nasty challenge on Abud Omar that left the Belgium-based full back limping until his untimely substitution on 54 minutes, forcing Sweden-based Erick “Marcelo” Ouma to replace him in the second change after the ineffective Eric Johanna was withdrawn for Ismael Gonzalez at the restart.
The Walya Antelopes continued with their hunt for the opener bossing the midfield with ease while slowly making inroads in the Kenyans defence.
Demte Beneyam forced Patrick Matasi to a save with a veracious shot from the right flank in the 55th minute and on 67 minutes, Shemeles Bekele beat the offside trap but was denied by the upright.
Dukele Dawa’s goal seven minutes to the final whistle was disallowed for an offside as the Kenyans calmly wasted time to bag a vital point.
Kenya line up:
Patrick Matasi (GK), Philemon Otieno, Musa Mohammed, Brian Mandela, Abud Omar (Erick Ouma 54’), Victor Wanyama (CPT), Dennis Odhiambo, Eric Johanna (Ismael Gonzalez 46’), Ovella Ochieng’, Francis Kahata (Paul Were 75’), Michael Olunga.
Samson Asefa (GK), Abdulkerim Adem, Ahmed Reshad, Anteneh Tesfaye, Aschalew Tamene, Beneyam Demte (Omod Okwury 65’), Dukele Hotessa (Abel Tilahun 86’), Kadebe Gibeto, Mesfen Bolado (Kenean Maleko 81’), Bekele Godo, Gatoch Panom