Kenya XI; Oluoch- Musa, Wafula, Odhiambo, Shakava- Okoth, Kimani, Mieno, Abondo- Olunga, Were.
Ethiopia XI; Tarik- Aschelew, Bargecho, Tadele, Gatoch- Kalbore, Ashane, Assefa- Lok, Assefa.
Bobby Williamson featured the three top scoring players in Kenya; Were, Olunga and Abondo, while bringing in Shakava in defense in a Gor Mahia dominated 4-4-2 line-up.
Harambee Stars were playing in a flat 4-4-2 and, expectedly, their game was direct; only too direct. The players always initiated attacks through long vertical passes towards wide areas. They also biased to pick out 1vs1 battles in attack rather than look for combinations. This was all in an effort to get the overstated early goal. This approach created the illusion that Kenya was getting forward with the ball well but it didn’t need expert observation to note that not only was the ball being received in less optimal positioning but also that chance creation was a scarcity.
The Ethiopians contributed a lot to the stressful circumstances Kenyan attackers received the ball. They pressed and looked very much at home at it. Ethiopia is a high-altitude place and this appeared to do them well pressing in Nairobi; a comparatively lower altitude area. The Walaya Antelopes pressing was man-oriented- that is, they were always aggressive towards the ball carrier. They didn’t need to have more complex pressing structures for two reasons. One, the Kenyans were very slow on the ball- technically deficient and secondly Kenyan combinational and partnership organizations were non-existent.
One would be forgiven to think Kenya was fielding a copy-paste of Gor Mahia, but there were crucial differences. Importantly, Gor Mahia has impressive attacking full-backs who have good combinations with their respective wingers. In this CHAN game, the fullbacks were the decent type; unspectacular going forward but decent in defense. Also, Gor Mahia has a powerful box-to-box midfielder in Khalid Aucho. Here it was a deep creator playing this role and this caused defensive deficiencies for Kenya.
Ethiopia were good defensively; let’s save the argument that defensive sides are more compact for another day. Their players moved out of the zones one at a time for man-oriented pressing. Their diamond styled 4-4-2 allowed them to match Abondo and Kevin Kimani’s drifting inside. It also enabled them to match Kenya’s twin strike-force with a 3vs2 tyranny of numbers game.
Conversely, Kenyan defenders sat deep but their team-mates, except for Okoth, were gung-ho in attack. Ethiopian strikers quickly noticed this and moved higher and initiated increasingly dangerous counters. The defenders were clearly under instruction not to follow them thus depended on fewer balls lost on the other end to get reprieve.
The first is pretty obvious, if you follow this blog; Kenya is evidently biased towards wide attacks with little emphasis on central attacking. Perhaps the thinking is that the wings offer superior 1vs1 situations but even if so then what? Central attacking gives more options for ball distribution, 360 degrees, and can be utilized more devastatingly to open channels and passing lanes. The KPL players are used to poor lateral defending in the league but everywhere else crosses are the least effective form of attack.
Another fallacy that played out here was the obsession with the long passes, diagonal and vertical. Again, normally there is heavy pressing on footballers so a long pass that needs the player to pull the ball to the ground whilst being pressed makes defending easier. That takes away nothing from Olunga’s and Were’s nice hold up abilities though.
Ethiopia reduced their pressing in the 2nd half while increase their ambitiousness. On the other hand, Kenya pushed their defenders higher to minimize space between the defensive and midfield lines and all these lead to Kenyan control in the game. Atleast in chance creation.
Williamson’s charges showcased more build-up and unsurprisingly they looked more dangerous; even earning a wasted penalty in the game. Kenya wanted to take shots at the earliest chance and the 2nd half offered them that. It was very good infact that the Walaya Antelopes seemed to break down mentally. Committing foul after foul but Kenya didn’t take proper advantage.
We are still waiting to make a CAF, nations, tournament since 2004.