In recent times many have been pessimistic about Harambee Stars.
The criticism may not be justified but in all fairness there has been little to write home about.Infact for the last decade and a half the team has been reduced to celebrating victories in friendlies and Obscure regional tournaments while our less illustrious neighbor Uganda improved massively and managed to participate in last year’s AFCON tournament.
This sense of inevitability was reflected in the sombre mood that preceded the AFCON 2019 qualifier against Ghana last weekend. A close friend of mine plaintively remarked that we would be given a hiding of unprecedented intensity. He was left swallowing his words on Saturday afternoon after Harambee Stars managed to pull off the seemingly impossible with a 1-0 win at Kasarani stadium
We never had any reason to dream about anything, but now we can dream of sauntering leisurely in the streets of Yaounde during next year’s AFCON tournament.(I hope I’m not being too ambitious,there’s still a long way to go)
But just how did they do it?
5 major talking points stood out for me tactically;
1. The Silent effectiveness of Dennis Odhiambo
When it was confirmed that Victor Wanyama would not make it for the game ,there were worries over who would be able to fill that gap in midfield.Anthony Akumu was the logical option given his past success in that position at national level .However Head coach Sebastian Migne went with his gut and selected Dennis Odhiambo who has had a stellar season playing in midfield both at Thika earlier in the season and also at his new club Sofapaka. Not only did Dennis break up play effectively but his calm assurance on the ball and his leadership skills injected belief into his younger midfield partner Ismael Gonzalez who also had a tidy game.Their reading of the game was admirable,Ghana’s main man Thomas Partey barely got to assert his authority in the game.
2. Eric Johanna :The midfield protagonist
There has never been any doubt as to the talent possessed by Eric Johanna.The man who is affectionately nicknamed ‘Mapake’ stamped his authority on the game and it was clear the Ghanaians were not equipped to handle him.Playing primarily behind the striker, Johanna used his passing range to spot the lanky figure of Michael Olunga with several diagonal balls that really troubled the Ghanaian defense in several occasions including the one leading to the goal.
He had to be subbed off for David Ochieng after Joash Onyango’s red card but he put in a solid shift during his time on the pitch and with a bit more of consistency he may end up being the main man in this new look Harambee stars side.
3. Musa Mohammed : The coach on the pitch
Musa Mohammed made his reputation at Gor Mahia as a tough tackling defender whose ability to read danger was a crucial factor in all the success he achieved with the green army.His proactivity was evident against Ghana where his handling of Abdul Majeed Waris and Raphael Dwamena was exceptional as well as his marshaling of the defense .He also communicated effectively with the rest of the team when trying to maintain their defensive shape.
He brought his big game experience and it helped Kenya keep a crucial clean sheet.
4. Ovella Ochieng : Pace and selflessness
Ovella’s speed in the first half really stretched the Ghanian defence and his effort and discipline in the second half helped nullify Ghana’s left flank.
He may have come under criticism by some fans for his profligacy in front of goal but the former Kariobangi Sharks man gave 150 percent for his country on Saturday.
5. Joash Onyango: The unsung hero
Joash’s tackle on Abdul Majeed Waris was a thing of beauty.Yes, I said it!
It was the most important foul of the day.The Gor Mahia man brought down his opponent on the edge of the box and saw Red.
His sacrifice was timely , Ghana was in the ascendency ,not only did he kill momentum but also he prevented what surely would have been an equalizer and an opportunity for Ghana to get back in the game.
Everybody on the Harambee Stars squad put in a valiant shift.
If I were a rich man I would have bought all of them a year’s supply of fresh yoghurt.
But since I am not a rich man, I will settle for awarding them with this blog post.