By KABS KANU :
The stakes were high , with both nations seeking to make a glorious start to the campaign and with their two countries on the edge, it was no less a pulsating encounter . Both teams threw everything into the game, but it was the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone who prevailed on home turf as they whipped the Harambee Stars of Kenya 2-1 in the African Nations Cup qualifying series at the Siaka Stevens Stadium this evening.
THE SIAKA STEVENS STADIUM WAS JAMMED TO CAPACITY
OUR MAN CLAUDIUS BECKLEY WITH HAT AND A TV COMMENTATOR
With the nation’s Chief patron of sports, President Koroma watching and even jumping gleefully (along with some government ministers and officials ) to rejoice each time the stars scored , Leone Stars realized they had little room for any margin of errors and dominated the game at the beginning, covering every blade of grass and controlling the midfield, pushing deep into defence the much-fancied Kenyans who came into this match on the back of an 11-game unbeatable streak under Coach Stanley Okumbi.
JUST BEFORE THE SECOND HALF STARTED
With a vocal and victory-hungry home crowd cheering them on along with thousands more following the game on social media and the match being streamed live in the internet by Sierra Leone’s ATV and Kenya’s KTV, Sierra Leone were presented with early chances to take the lead , but missed them and it was the Kenyans , who eventually settled down and began pushing back and raiding the Leone Stars defence , and they came closest to scoring twice when Ayoub Timbe broke clear and measured a dangerous cross that Michael Olunga could have easily headed home if the ball had not been a little higher. That was a let-off for the Leone Stars.
GOAL ! ! ! SIERRA LEONE SCORES ! ! !
GOAL FOR SIERRA LEONE ! ! AND PRESIDENT KOROMA ( FAR LEFT WITH WHITE HAT ), HON. ALPHA KANU AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ARE SEEN HERE REJOICING
PRESIDENT KOROMA , ALPHA KANU AND THE DEPUTY SCOPE DR. KARGBO JUBILATING
A face-to-face encounter between Kenya’s striker Erick Johannah and Leone Stars goalkeeper Solomon Morris presented the Kenyans the best chance to take the lead but goalkeeper Solomon Morris , covering his angle well, thwarted him with a rasping save that drew cheers from the jampacked Stadium.
Leone Stars seized back the initiative and the stadium erupted in the 22nd minute when they found the curtain-raiser. The goal was engineered by the enterprising American MLS Soccer leading goalscorer last year, Kei Kamara , who dribbled past the Kenyans and lifted a glorious ball for Julius Woobay whose snap shot beat the goalkeeper , hit the foot of the post and tricked into the net. The jubilation in the stadium spread to the social media with excited Sierra Leoneans sharing the score on their Facebook walls.
But their joy was almost soured few minutes later and it was Tottenham Hotspur’s midfielder Victor Wanyama who nearly broke the hearts of the crowd when he beautifully headed a free kick taken by danger man Eric Johannah , but the ball grazed off the crossbar into touch for a goal kick to Sierra Leone.
THE TWO TEAMS LINE UP BEFORE THE KICKOFF
But the Harambee Stars kept coming at the Leone Stars and there was a breathcatching drama when goalkeeper Morris came to the rescue of Sierra Leone once again by parrying a definite goal-bound shot from the Spurs man Wanyama, right into the path of Michael Olunga , but as the crowd held its breath , his redirected shot hit the goalpost to the grief of the Kenyans.
Then came another drama, this time in the Kenyan goalmouth when the visitors’ defender Brian Mandela fouled Sierra Leone’s attacker Alhassan Kamara and since Kamara would have been clear on goal, the referee deemed it an unlawful denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and flashed the red card at Mandela , reducing the Kenyans to 10 men.
Sierra Leone led 1-0 at half time.
Back from the interval, Leone Stars dominated the early proceedings once again and through Alhassan Kamara missed two golden opportunities to stretch their lead . In the first instance , he was cleverly put through by Woobay, but Alhassan Kamara fluffed the chance , followed by another great chance he should have buried but struck the frame of the goal instead.
The Kenyans were reeling and the stadium erupted once more when Sierra Leone made it 2-0 after defender Erick Marcello upended Kei Kamara inside the box to give away a penalty kick , which was taken and scored by Captain Umaru Zangalay Bangura.
Five minutes later, the Kenyans struck to give the match a nerve-whacking finish . They got a free kick close to goal and this time Olunga, who had hit the post in the first half , took a swerving shot that for once beat the agile Solomon Morris to reduce 1-2.
The Kenyan goal made for a spell binding final 15 minutes plus stoppage time and the Sierra Leoneans had their hearts in their mouths, but the brilliant Leone Stars successfully saw out the game, clinging to their narrow lead until the final whistle.
SIERRA LEONE 2, KENYA 1.