It was near yet so far for the Kenyan national Under-23 team after they beat Botswana 4-1 in a return leg of the Africa Youth Championships match at the Nyayo National Stadium on Saturday.
Despite the win, Kenya bowed out of the competition as their opponents had won 3-0 in the first leg and go through on the away goal rule. Going into the match with a huge deficit, the Kenyan boys were the more urgent side. Michael Olunga headed the ball to Collins Shivachi, but Goitseone Phoko in the Botswana goal came out quickly to block the danger and was injured in the process.
Then Victor Ndinya was cautioned for diving inside the Botswana penalty area as the home side upped the pressure in search for the opening goal. It was to come in the 20th minute when Olunga scored with a powerful finish and had the sparse crowd on its feet.
Before that goal came, the visitors had not made any meaningful attacks even though they enjoyed superiority especially on set pieces. After Olunga’s goal, Mpho Kgaswane threatened Ian Otieno in Kenya’s goal with a long range strike, which the Kenyan keeper dealt with well.
But Omaatla Kebatho spoiled the party for the home team with a 22nd minute goal which increased the deficit and meant that Kenya had to score five goals to make it through to the next round. Kebatho was the point man for the visitors as every goal-bound shot towards the Kenya goal came from his foot.
He was, however, substituted just before the first half ended after sustaining an injury and his place taken by Onkabetse Makgantai. But this happened after Olunga had put Kenya two goals ahead with a clinical finish in the 37th minute. Going into the second half, the home side, which was enjoying a slight lead kept up the pressure and the reward was two consecutive corner kicks.
Finding themselves under pressure, the visitors opted to defend and did it very well. Kenyan danger man Olunga was police marked with two men on him all the time. Kenyan coach Bobby Wiliamson rested John Nairuka for John Njoroge in search of fresh legs to finish the job.
With Olunga tightly marked, the home side needed someone who could open up the visitor’s backline. Njoroge made his presence felt in the match with a 75th minute goal.
But this was after Onkabetse Makgantai had nearly scored a second goal for the visitors at the hour mark when he appeared to have sneaked between the Kenyan backline but his effort came to nothing. Kenya kept up the pressure to the end and Olunga scored his third after scrambling in a header but it was not enough to send the Kenyans through. (Standard Digital News)