Five things learnt from Harambee Stars' spirited stalemate against Ivory Coast

Five things learnt from Harambee Stars' spirited stalemate against Ivory Coast

Mark Kinyanjui 10:23 - 12.06.2024

Harambee Stars held reigning AFCON holders Ivory Coast to a 0-0 draw. Here are five things we learnt from the match:

Harambee Stars held reigning African champions Ivory Coast to a 0-0 draw in a match that took place at the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, Malawi on Tuesday.

It is a performance they can be proud of amidst all the off-the-pitch issues that had been surrounding camp the last couple of days, but they will also feel like that was a missed opportunity that went begging, considering they created the more clear-cut opportunities on the counter attack.

But what exactly were the takeaways from the match? Pulse Sports learnt five things about the team, and profiled them for you. Tell us if you agree or disagree, and also add more takeaways in the comments section below.

Change of approach tactically worked

Owing to the unavailability of some personnel as well as the threat of Ivory Coast, Engin Firat opted to switch things up tactically.

He opted to deploy a 3-5-2 formation on the ball and a 4-5-1 low block on it. And to be fair, it did work. Stars worked hard in their low defensive structure to deny Ivory Coast players alot of time and space to do their magic, and the only time they created inroads was when Simon Adingra and Frank Kessie tried driving with the ball down the right hand side on two occasions.

In attack, Stars looked dangerous in counter-attacking situations, and there was a good opportunity midway through the second half where a move involving Duke Abuya, Timothy Ouma and Michael Olunga resulted in two huge back-to-back opportunities missed.

A generally heroic display under very extenuating circumstances.

Stars at their best in counter-attacking situations

Harambee Stars have struggled against teams that sit back themselves due to a lack of sufficient players with flair or in some cases, the unwillingness by the coach to make many adventurous changes (more on this later), but their match against the Ivorians showed they can be dangerous on the counter-attack.

There were several situations where Rooney Onyango was used as an outlet down the right flank, and other situations where Olunga and even Duke Abuya offered great off-the-ball runs to try and create opportunities on the break.

While Kenya must learn to find solutions against defensive teams, they can certainly be dangerous in transitional situations.

Profligate strikers

Another game where the strikers failed to capitalise on their chances. Yes, you may say Olunga did not have alot of service, but at the same time, what did he really do with the few chances that were created for him?

The same can be said of Ouma, who missed arguably the biggest chance of the match when he was set up well by Olunga, but dallied on the ball too long which allowed Yahia Fofana to reposition himself and make a great save.

Although he has scored seven goals in his last five caps, a striker of Olunga’s qualities should learn sometimes to make the most of half-chances, especially against sides you know you are not going to create big chances against.

Harambee Stars should consider fully adopting to the back 3 formation

Harambee Stars could be at their optimum in a back three formation. Pulse Sports had explained candidly last week why it makes a lot of sense, and you should consider giving it a read.

Although it has not been implemented for years, the side actually looked comfortable in it. Firat has been hinting at wanting to use a back three for a while now, but he has been denied the luxury of having to use some of his best players either due to administrative hindrances, injuries or shocking AWOLS -in the case of Amos Nondi and Erick Johanna Omondi.

If he can get his best players back and practice better man-management, it is a formation with light at the end of the tunnel.

Is Firat too pragmatic?

Is Firat too negative of a coach? By now, it is clear that Stars are an excellent team sitting back and then using their pace on the break. 

They rarely concede many clear cut chances, and that is thanks to the resolute defensive display Firat has implemented.

However, there is one big problem. A worrying problem in fact, let us put it that way. Is Firat adventurous enough with his substitutions?

Stars were on the up in counter-attacking situations from the 70th minute till the 82nd. At that point, it made sense adding an extra outlet to capitalise on these big chances. Rather than bring on John Avire or Austin Odhiambo to help at this, he opted to bring on a defensive midfielder, Chris Erambo, as if he was telling Ivory Coast ‘ I am sitting back and playing for a draw’.

Come on Firat. We know that the country is not blessed with many players with flair, but you must have called them up for a reason?  Especially when it is a home game, and every point has to count.