NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 9 – Cliff Nyakeya was the toast of the Harambee Stars side, playing a role in both goals as Kenya beat Zambia’s Chipolopolo 2-1 in the first competitive football match to be played in Kenya since the coronavirus pandemic swept sports to a stop in March.
Nyakeya forced an own goal off Tandi Mwape for Kenya’s opener before scoring the second with a sublime low shot in the 36th minute.
Substitute Emmanuel Chabula scored Zambia’s goal 10 minutes from time as Stars just but managed to pick up a morale boosting friendly match victory ahead of next month’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier double header against Lesotho.
Apart from giving head coach Francis Kimanzi an opportunity to look at his squad and measure up fitness after six months of inactivity, the friendly tie also offered hope for Kenyans as they await the resumption of football after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kimanzi used the opportunity to test some players, including Barnsley’s Clarke Oduor who came on as a second half substitute, playing the final 18 minutes of the match.
With Philemon Otieno yet to hit the right fitness notes after recovering from an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury, Kimanzi handed a senior team debut to KCB’s Baraka Bado in the right of defense.
Meanwhile, Brian Mandela skippered the side in his first ever match since June 2019 when he started the friendly against Madagascar in France, the defender having recovered from a nasty knee injury.
Overall, Kimanzi had few players with utmost match fitness. Joash Onyango (Simba, Tanzania), Nyakeya (Masr, Egypt) and Eric Johannah (Sodra, Sweden) are the only players who have their leagues going on.
By extension, Ian Otieno (Zesco, Zambia) and Anthony Akumu (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa) would also be considered relatively fit with their leagues having ended not more than a month ago.
Stars however started slow with Zambia dictating the early paces with their short passing game, but nothing much to trouble Otieno in goal.
Stars had a sniff of a chance seven minutes into the game, Johannah’s freekick which was delivered to the backpost headed back to play by Muguna, but Mandela could not connect inside the six yard box.
Zambia had a decent chance in the 10th minute when a lapse in communication at the edge of the Stars box gifted Fashion Sakala the ball, but the KV Oostende forward took a heavy first touch with acres of space ahead of him, allowing Otieno to sprint off his line and gather.
Six minutes later, Lubambo Musonda had another brilliant opportunity for the visitors when he skipped past David Owino on the left to cut into the box but his eventual shot flew over the bar.
Zambia were made to pay for the missed chances.
Kenya broke the deadlock in the 19th minute when Mwape deflected the ball into his own net as he tried to cut out a cross from Nyakeya on the right. The Masr winger had been sent through with a brilliant through ball from Muguna before trying to pick out a striker inside the box.
Stars took control of the game, the goal having a calming effect.
They would double the lead nine minutes to the break through another Muguna, Nyakeya combination.
The Gor Mahia skipper won the ball in midfielder before spraying out a superb through ball to a racing Nyakeya on the right. The Masr man broke to the edge of the box before unleashing a low shot that beat Sebastian Mwange in goal.
In the second half, the visitors started with more intent and were a thorn in the flesh for the Stars backline in the opening few minutes.
Musonda pinched the ball off Johannah on the right before laying the ball for Sakala, but the forward could not pick out the pass in time.
Evans Kangwa also came close with a shot from the edge of the box that flew over the bar.
Kimanzi made changes, Johannah and Masud both coming off for Abdallah Hassan and Timothy Otieno.
Zambia’s Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic responded by bringing on Emmanuel Chabula and Kelvin Kampamba for Sakala and Kangwa.
Chabula almost made an immediate impact when he came off the end a beautiful passing move by the Zambians, but his shot from the edge of the box went inches wide.
The fatigue was visible on Stars and the lack of match fitness was clearly telling. Zambia seemed more sharper and hungrier off the break and Stars were constantly playing off the back foot.
And they were finally rewarded 10 minutes from time when two substitutes combined, Chabula flicking a header over keeper Otieno after being picked out by a cross from Kampamba.
From then on, pressure was on the home side and they kept attacking. They thought they had the ball over the line few minutes later after a goalline scramble, but the linesman waved for a goalkick after the final ball was kicked wide.
Stars made their final change, skipper Mandela coming off for Johnstone Omurwa.