Harambee Stars XI: Boniface Oluoch – Musa Mohammed, Eric Ouma, David Ouma, Brian Mandela – Victor Wanyama, Anthony Akumu, Eric Johanna, Ayub Timbe – Masoud Juma, Michael Olunga.

Stanley Okumbi did well to stick to his consistent line-up as he faced what was truly his first competitive match. Kenya’s best chance to qualify for AFCON 2019 is to grab one of the best runners-up slots. That means double digit points and meant we needed to get a point or more away to Sierra Leone.

Attacking mindset

It was evident from the line-up that Harambee Stars was going to play proactively. Okumbi fielded the best midfield combo possible, a twin strike force and two different types of wide players. If there was a weakness in personnel, it was the right fullback position. It appears like we will have to naturalize a right back. But we did not need a right back to overlap because Ayub Timbe preferred to remain wide, for the isolation of going 1vs1 against his marker.

But the awful pitch of the Siaka Stevens stadium meant there was only going to be one style of play. Long balls. The result was a match of poor quality. Now, this article suggested vertical passes as an alternative to hoofing balls forward. We did not do that and therefore no surprise the deliveries forward didn’t lead to any chances.

Our chances

Kenya’s three close opportunities, in the first half, were better than anything Sierra Leone mustered. All of them were created by midfield passing instead of midfield bypassing. In fact, right before the twin chance by Wanyama and Olunga, you could see that we needed an extra body in midfield to retain the ball. In that instance, Eric Johanna tucked inside and we created the best opportunity of the match.

I know it’s heresy in this blog, but Sierra Leone did not show that they are better than Harambee Stars. The red card helped their cause. When your team is reduced to ten men there are only two level-headed ways to reorganize. You either ditch a striker (4-4-1) or play with a three-man midfield (4-3-2). Either way, you winning depends on the opponent’s attitude.

Harambee Stars shortcomings

When all is said and done, we lost the match. That means there are things we did not do right. We hardly won any of the important individual contests. Ayub Timbe could not beat his marker. I can’t remember Teddy Akumu delivering clean long passes to Timbe and Olunga. And while Eric Ouma overlapped, his combination with Eric Johanna was nothing to write home about. I guess the Eric-Johanna-on-the-wing experiment needs to come to an end.

The first goal we conceded was pretty embarassing. It stems from the unclear role of Victor Wanyama when donning the Harambee Stars jersey. If you have one of the best players at shielding the back four, please give him that role. Poor compactness allowed Wobey to pick his spot all while between our centerbacks and our central midfielders.

If Ghana is truly on a downfall, our hopes are still alive. We are still on course for 4 points from our first 3 games.