Birthday boy Michael Olunga struck a twice as Harambee Stars beat visiting DR Congo 2-1 in an international friendly match at Kenyatta’s Machakos Stadium on Sunday evening.
The result saw Harambee Stars stretch their record to 10 consecutive matches without a loss, but had to overcome some late scare when Yannick Bangala’s late goal was ruled off for an initial foul.
Despite former Chelsea FC man Gael Kakuta having equalized for The Leopards, Olunga scored in the 70th minute as Harambee Stars picked the vital win which could see them rise in the FIFA rankings.
“I am happy with how we performed today because we pressed really well and our transition play was fantastic. We never put our heads down even after the equalizer and we kept fighting and that is what I love about the team,” Stanley Okumbi, the Harambee Stars coach said.
It was one of the best performances for the national team and the maturity in the way the players executed the match excited even skipper Victor Wanyama.
“I think our character has grown and that is one of the most commendable things so far. We are no longer pushovers,” the Tottenham Hotspur skipper noted.
Fifth win in 10 matches
This is the fifth victory in 10 unbeaten matches for the national team and the third in four matches.
Harambee Stars beat The Leopards 1-0 in the first meeting in Lubumbashi last year while the other victories have come at home against Congo Brazzaville in an AFCON qualifier as well as against Liberia and Mozambique in November last year.
Okumbi retained half of the squad that started on Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Uganda Cranes.
The biggest team news of the day was the retention of Ulinzi Stars winger Samuel Onyango who impressed against Uganda and proved good enough to slice into what is seen as Okumbi’s first team.
Wanyama, David Ochieng, Jockins Atudo, David Owino and keeper Boniface Oluoch were the only new inclusions to the starting team.
The visitors had a fiery start spraying their trademark quick passes. Neskeens Kebano came inches close to breaking the deadlock in the third minute when his quickly taken free kick from the centre circle almost caught Oluoch.
But as soon as Harambee Stars found their footing, there was no turning back.
Olunga broke the deadlock in the sixth minute when he finished off in superb fashion with his weaker right foot.
Defender Brian Mandela surged from his defensive position, to put Olunga through and the striker turned his marker inside before burying the ball home.
It was an entertaining match to watch especially for the neutrals with both teams not holding back.
The inclusion of Ochieng as a holding midfielder gave Wanyama more freedom upfront.
DR Congo were not relenting as well and the impressive Neskeens Kebano had an 18th minute freekick from the right hit the side netting.
The visitors had a plea for a penalty waved away in the 24th minute when Kenya struggled to clear the lines from a Kebano corner with the Congolese protesting that Junior Kabananga’s goal bound header was handled by the Kenyan back line.
Olunga came close to a second in the 32nd minute from an Onyango initiative but the striker’s shot was saved by keeper Joel Kiassumbua’s feet.
Onyango had a chance himself with a curling effort which was put behind by Kiassumbua for a corner.
The Congolese were trying to use the height of their two strikers Kabananga and Jonathan Bolingi Mpangi to equalize. In the 36th minute.
Mpangi who plays for Belgium’s Standard Liege came close with his header from a Kebano cross going just wide.
The well built Kabananga, top scorer in January’s African Cup of Nations found some space inside the box in the 43rd minute but his shot was palmed away by Oluoch in the Kenyan goal.
At the start of the second half, Onyango was almost capping off his dream start at the national team with a goal after breaking into the box.
But the Newcastle United defender and the Congolese skipper Chancel Mbemba pulled a superb save to block the effort just as the striker was preparing for a shot.
The visitors drew level on the half hour mark when Kakuta curled the ball over the wall and into the bottom left of Oluoch’s goal from a free-kick at the edge of the box.
The goal spurred Les Leopards and Kakuta thought he had the second but his effort was ruled offside.
An unusual error by Mandela almost gifted the Congolese a second when his square pass found Kabananga at the edge of the box but the striker’s effort was deflected for a corner.
Olunga tapped home
As they pulled pressure to find the winner, it was the hosts who would pop the champagne right on their faces when Olunga tapped home unmarked from a well weighted Onyango low cross.
But in the final quarter of an hour, the Congolese turned the pressure on their hosts and Atudo was forced to clear the ball off the line from a Bolingi effort after a defensive mistake.
In the final minutes of the game, Okumbi withdrew Jesse Were for defender Robinson Kamura to seal the win.
Kenya: Boniface Oluoch, Joackins Atudo, Brian Mandela, David Owino, Aboud Omar, Victor Wanyama, David Ochieng, Johanna Omollo, Samuel Onyango, Jesse Were, Michael Olunga. Subs: David Okello, Robinson Kamura, Osborne Monday, David Mwangi, Kenneth Muguna, John Makwatta, Noah Wafula, Paul Were.
DRC Congo: Joel Kiassumbua, Jordan Ikoko, Fabrice Nsakala, Chancel Mbemba, Marcel Tisserand, Remi Mulumba, Wilson Kamavuaka, Neeskens Kabiano, Gael Kakuta, Junior Kabanga, Jonathan Bolingi Mpangi. Subs: Ley Matampi, Frank Nkela, Yanick Bangala, Djos Isama, Jordan Nkololo, Elias Katchungo, Jonathan Bijimine.