Harambee Stars XI: Arnold Origi- Musa Mohammed, James Situma, Brian Mandela, David Owino- Patillah Omoto, Victor Wanyama, Eric Johanna, Johanna Omolo, Clifton Miheso- Michael Olunga
In his debut match, Stanley Okumbi named an expected line-up. Aside from the inclusion of Patillah Omoto, the pool of players was where any of us would have drawn from. Okumbi had Olunga upfront alone and packed the midfield in a very narrow line-up.
The game started with a friendly tempo, for a professional footballer, and I thought it was just bottom-of-the-group sides sizing one another. But it played out for the entire first half. No complaints though it was a delightful half.
Harambee Stars pressed in midfield and because the game was so slow it was easily noticeable. They gave Guinea Bissau room to build from the back. The home side chose wisely as they would have no chance with goalkicks seeing that Kenya outmatched them in height. When the build-up reached midfield the Kenyan midfielders would attack the ball carrier, individually, from their respective zones.
I know that Kenya was playing conservatively, being the away team, but the poor pressing mechanism was disappointing (from a MYSA coach). If you are going to tire your players by asking them to chase balls down, then efficiency should be your go to word. Otherwise you burn the players out for the closing phases when you are desperate for magic or need to concentrate on seeing out a result.
The first instance was the lonely pressing forays by Olunga. I know it happens on lapses, but typically one player cannot win the ball back. Secondly, there was the aforementioned middle press. I have written many times here; if you attack the ball carrier you must also close down his passing options, passing lanes or both. Otherwise, you are exhausting your players as the opponent recycles possession in midfield.
It was not all gloomy though (don’t listen to the media frenzy). Okumbi fielded a narrow side and this helped in keeping possession. Harambee Stars was involved in a lot of short passes. This is due to the number of options in the central parts of the pitch. There were no true fullbacks and no true wingers either. Miheso will always be a leftback in my books.
Kenya also took advantage of Guinea Bissau’s susceptibility to pressing many times. They turned over possession many times from midfield and were on the front foot for most of the game. Even the goal was scored against the run of play.
No options from the bench
Kenya’s dominance failed to bear fruits because they couldn’t stretch Bissau at key moments. A little width would have created space in the channels for Olunga to sneak into as he did so often for Gor Mahia. Unfortunately, Okumbi had no wingers at his beck.
Instead, he brought on Jesse Were to add a body upfront and tried to send crosses into the box. It’s a simple and most desperate mechanism to claw yourself back into a game. Well, second only to relying on set pieces.
Harambee Stars also did well to put men inside their opponent’s defensive block. Except there was one problem; they didn’t get the ball to their feet.
We lost away from home. This all but ends our chances for a place in AFCON 2017. In the context of the match though, this was a palatable performance from the Stars. Guinea Bissau being a weak team notwithstanding. Forget the return match; I wait to see what a better line up can do.