Harambee Stars, Cranes fire blanks in World Cup qualifier
Harambee Stars kicked-off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a barren stalemate against Uganda, in a dull match at the Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi on Thursday.
Neither side did enough to create real threats as was anticipated in their 77th derby clash with the result meaning Mali tops Group E with three points having beaten Rwanda 1-0 in Agadir, Morocco on Wednesday.
Ugandan head coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic should feel satisfied with the result, as his side turned in a feeble performance and seemed to be playing on the back-foot for virtually the entire match.
Handed his debut in a high stakes encounter, Richard Odada justified coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee’s faith in him with an outstanding performance as he slotted in central midfield seamlessly to partner Kenneth Muguna.
The Red Star Belgrade’s midfielder exchanged quick passes with Muguna with the latter sending a long ball to Michael Olunga whose effort on goal was blocked.
Soon after Abdalla Hassan came close but was well shielded hence pulled a feeble shot which gave keeper Charles Lukwago no trouble to collect.
In the fifth, Olunga swiftly dodged Khalid Walilwa before teeing Masoud Juma on the left, who sent a fine cross into the Cranes box only for Hassan to head it wide.
Walilwa would last only two more minutes on the pitch, as he was injured forcing Micho to throw Enoch Walusimbi into the fray.
Odada made an attempt from 40 yards, quite a powerful shot that however flew over the bar, before Muna released Olunga with another long ball but the Al-Duhail man was unable to beat Lukwago to the ball.
Cranes captain Emmanuel Okwi had a half chance in the 16th minute, have been sent a long one from the middle but Stars custodian Ian was calm to stop him.
Uganda who were under pressure in the first quarter-hour started showing some composure, and Okwi gave Otieno his first real test with a low drive form outside the box.
Ouma curled in a free-kick into the Cranes box from the left channel, finding none to connect with the box congested with both men in red and white.
Just at the half-hour mark, head coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee withdrew Sofapaka FC’s Lawrence Juma for Eric Johanna, underlining the urgency he wanted in the attack.
Juma had started as the shadow striker behind Olunga, with Masoud and Hassan attacking from the left and right sides respectively. He was not however as aggressive, many a times drifting behind probable inviting the move by Mulee.
In the 32nd, Milton Karisa was fouled by Okumu near the box-line on the right, and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Uganda’ celebrations were however halted as the second assistant referee advised against the call, with Kenyan players vehemently protesting.
Ochaya wasted the awarded free-kick, curling it wide off target. He had a chance however to compensate for the missed chance when he shot from about 30 yards minutes later, but Otieno was calm to deny.
The then quite unsettled Stars responded quickly on the opposite end, Daniel Sakari’s deflected ball penetrating Uganda’s defense but Lukwago was alert enough to end the move.
In the 36th, Sakari conceded a corner which Isaac Muleme took quite skillfully, the ball dropping off Otieno’s hands but Hassan quickly cleared.
With five minutes to the break, Johanna found unmarked Hassan on the box but funnily shot powerfully across the goal instead of directing the ball into the net.
Odada’s pass deep in the midfield was well collected by Hassan, who inturn crossed to Johanna to pull his signature powerful shots from outside the box, but off target.
Olunga who had no clear supply to act on throughout the first stanza tried a shot from the goalmouth despite being surrounded by two, the host’s last attempt before the referee called for the breather.
Cranes suffered a second injury blow as Okwi who had earlier showed signs of pain was stretchered off, forcing Micho to slot in Derrick Nsibambi at resumption of the match.
Milton Karisa also had to pave way for Sentamu in the dying stages of the match, but nothing was to change as both sides kept tight their defence lines to the end.
The two teams shift focus to Sunday matches, the second round of the qualifiers with Kenya travelling to Rwanda Thursday night while Uganda jet out to wait for Mali in Kampala.
Stars starting Lineup
1. Ian Otieno (GK), 2. Joseph Okumu, 5. Eugene Asike, 15.Daniel Sakari, 3. Eric Ouma, 6.Richard Odada, 21. Lawrence Juma, 16. Juma Masud, 13. Kenneth Muguna, 22. Abdalla Hassan, 14. Michael Olunga
23. James Saruni (GK), 18. Joseph Okoth (GK), 17. Duke Abuya, 8. Patillah Omoto, 19. Harun Shakava, 7. Boniface Muchiri, 20. Jackson Macharia, 4. Frank Odhiambo, 9.Henry Meja, 11.Siraj Mohammed, 12.Bolton Omwenga