Kenya’s Harambee Stars revived their hopes of making it to next year’s finals after beating Ghana’s Black Stars by a solitary goal at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on Saturday in Group F.
A Nicholas Opoku own goal made all the difference as 10-man Kenya held on for a nervy win. They had to play the final half hour of the match a player down after defender, Joash Onyango, was shown a straight red card for a tackle on Ghana’s Majeed Warris at the edge of the box.
Kenya started brighter with winger Ovellah Ochieng doing most of the runs on the right wing and on one such foray, he tested Ghana keeper, Richard Ofori, with a stinging shot which the shot stopper parried away.
Ghana controlled possession and had a chance after 13 minutes when Edwin Gyasi sent Majeed Waris through, but the latter’s shot whistled across the face of goal.
Atsu who had tried to exert his authority on either wing with minimal success had a chance in the 27th minute when he ran off Philemon Otieno on the left but his shot was well collected by an alert Patrick Matasi.
Kenya striker Michael Olunga who had been closely guarded for most of the match had his first sniff at goal on the half hour mark when he turned away from his marker at the edge of the box, but his shot with the weaker right foot went wide.
Kenya’s early persistence paid off four minutes to the break when under pressure from Olunga, Opoku turned the ball into his own net as he tried to defend a low cross with pace and power from Eric Johannah.
At the start of the second half, Ghana made changes, Gyasi making way for Raphael Dwamenah while Kenya was pushed to change personnel, right back Otieno coming off for Jockins Atudo after picking an ankle injury in the first half.
Ghana had started on the front foot and after eight minutes, Afriyeh Aquah had a chance off a Daniel Opare corner, but he headed it across the face of goal from the back-post.
Things went south for the hosts on the hour mark when Onyango was shown a straight red after a tackle on Warris as the last man in defense.
In response, coach Migne pulled out forward Johannah for defender David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng who slotted straight into centre back.
With numerical advantage, Ghana piled pressure looking for the equalizer and a probable winner. Harrison Afful who had come created a dangerous chance, cutting back for Warris, but his shot was well gathered by keeper matasi.
With 15 minutes left, Ghana came close when Thomas Partey sent Dwawena through but his shot took a deflection off Musa Mohammed, taking the sting off the shot for an easy gather for Matasi.
“I am very proud of my players; I like so much the spirit of the team. With only four days it was not easy to build a good spirit and with this kind of opponent it is difficult but in terms of spirit my boys gave something incredible,” Kenya’s coach Sebastien Migne said after the win.
Stand-in captain Musa Mohammed stepping in the place of Victor Wanyama was also elated after the final whistle.
“I don’t even have words to explain what we feel as a team. We went into this game with belief that we can do it. The players gave it their all on the pitch and now we have victory. Our dream of qualifying to the Africa Cup of Nations is back on track,” the defender noted.
Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah was not impressed with the result but holds that the Black Stars will still qualify.
“Football is all about taking your chances and today, we didn’t take our chances, and Kenya did. I don’t think we played to the level that I expected from the players but all hope is not lost,” the tactician said.
Winger Christian Atsu noted; “It is a disappointing loss because we had chances that we couldn’t score. Congratulations to Kenya they won, but we have to rise from this and improve in the next game”.