It would be premature to suggest that Saturday’s victory over Ghana could guarantee Kenya a return to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), but there can be no doubt that the result has revived Harambee Stars’ hopes of reaching next year’s Finals in Cameroon with four games still to play.
It was a remarkable turn of events for coach Kenya Sebastien Migne, who was forced to field a squad devoid of several key players including captain Victor Wanyama, his assistant David Owino and the Gor Mahia duo of George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo and goalkeeper Boniface Oluoch.
It was also a pleasant surprise for the many Harambee Stars supporters, who respect Ghana as a football powerhouse in the continent, having won the Afcon title four times and played in three World Cup tournaments including reaching the quarterfinals during the 2010 edition in South Africa.
Yet the entire nation was left celebrating wildly at the end of the day, as Nicholas Opoku’s first-half own-goal propelled Kenya to its first victory against Ghana in a competitive match and most importantly, it first wins in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
‘It feels good and I want to thank God for the three points, my teammates for the good work, and the fans for pushing us and for their support. For now, the group is open and we are praying that we get maximum points in our next two matches,’ Nkana FC defender Musa Mohammed said in a press conference held Sunday at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies.
Opoku turned the ball into his own net in the 42nd minute while under pressure from Stars forward Michael Olunga, who was waiting to pounce to a well-weighted pass from midfielder Eric Johanna.
The win was made sweeter by the fact that the Kenyan lads had to play with a man less for half an hour following the sending off of Gor Mahia defender Joash Onyango for a reckless tackle on Ghana striker Majeed Waris.
Migne had unleashed a surprise line up that had Joash Onyango partnering Musa Mohammed at the back, with Ismail Gonzalez starting ahead of Anthony Akumu in a packed midfield that also had Sofapaka’s Dennis Odhiambo.
Francis Kahata and Ovella Ochieng’ operated from the flanks, with Johanna being handed a free role in midfield as Olunga led the front line.
Though slim, the win has revived Kenya’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s Afcon finals after 14 long years during which local football enthusiasts have been treated to one disappointment after another.