Six talking points from Harambee Stars' loss to Iran


FOOTBALL Six talking points from Harambee Stars' loss to Iran

Imran Otieno 19:00 - 29.03.2023

Is Matasi solely to blame for the poor record of Kenyan goalkeepers in the recent past?

Harambee Stars were 14 minutes away from claiming a memorable win on Tuesday night but late capitulation saw an all too familiar script ensue with Kenya losing 2-1 to Iran.

There were plenty of positives to pick for head coach Engin Firat and here are some of the lessons learned from the encounter.

Arab experience comes in handy

It comes as no surprise that two of the stand-out performers for Harambee Stars, Michael Olunga and Masud Juma have plied their trades in Arabian leagues for years.

Despite the skipper enduring a barrage of heavy challenges in the first half, he had the resilience to push on in the second half and withstood the massively physical style of play synonymous with the Arabian style of play.

In scoring the first goal, Olunga bullied one of the Iranian defenders before going on a solo run from the halfway line and had ice in his veins to fire the ball into the bottom left corner via the upright.

Masud who since 2018 has played in the Arabian leagues, juggling between United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and now Saudi Arabia looked right at home in the encounter.

The 2017 Kenyan Premier League Golden Boot winner singlehandedly managed to silence Mehdi Taremi as he broke from the midfield line to sit deep and help the impressive Amos Nondi to nullify the threat of the proven goalscorer.

His tactical nous did not stop at defending as he was one of the outlets for springing a counterattack after soaking up pressure and handed Iranian left back Ehsan Hajsafi a torrid night as he was hooked off after the hour mark.

Persistent goalkeeping howlers

Kenya are yet to exorcise schoolboy errors in the goalkeeping department that have been plaguing the side in recent years despite trying out a handful of personnel in the position.

Having recalled Arnold Origi from retirement, handed chances to Brian Bwire, Ian Otieno, the experienced Patrick Matasi, and James Saruni none has failed to impress which begs the question, why are we not getting it right in that position?

The problem could be deep-rooted and goes beyond our goalkeepers and into the goalkeeping coaches, not until 2018 did Kenya hold its first-ever goalkeeping training courses which means that our coaches in that department are not up to international standards.

This was clearly depicted in Matasi’s body positioning as he let in the blooper, the Kenya Police FC goalkeeper should have had his body behind the ball for security just in case the ball slithered out like it did on that occasion.

In fact, eight of the nine goals that Kenya conceded in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations could have easily been avoided with better goalkeeping most notably the horrendous error by Brian Bwire against Uganda, Ian Otieno’s comedy of errors in the 5-0 thumping of Mali and the 1-1 draw with Rwanda.

It has been a while since goalkeeping coaches graduated from the coaching course and it is no secret that if we want to improve our goalkeepers we should invest in their coaching badges though this does not excuse Matasi's individual error that would make any coach pull his hair out.

Odada able Wanyama replacement

Former Harambee Stars skipper Victor Wanyama drew contrasting debates about his performances for the national team but make no mistake he was the best we had at the time in that position.

Since Wanyama announced retirement, Richard Odada who plies his trade in the Major Soccer League (MLS) with Philadelphia Union has slotted seamlessly into the former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder’s shoes with decent performances.

Despite featuring sparingly this year, Odada managed to clock 90 minutes against Iran and put in a decent shift as he partnered with Anthony Akumu in midfield.

Wingers scarcity

With Abdalla Hassan out of form and not featuring week in week out for Bandari, there seems to be a shortage of traditional wingers full of trickery and pace in the country.

The closest we had was Ayub Timbe who is currently unattached after leaving Thai side Buriram United and had a stinker in his last appearance in a Harambee Stars shirt against Comoros back in 2020.

Many were surprised when Firat handed a debut to AFC Leopards' Victor Omune who has been impressive this season but looks to have suffered a stage fright against Iran and was ineffective on the left wing.

Masud was deployed on the right wing and did an exceptional job but is an out-and-out center forward and looking at the bench only Wilkims Ochieng who is yet to make an appearance for Stars and Abdalla Hassan were wingers.

Problematic right-back position solved

There has been an age-old problem at right back in the Harambee Stars squad which has forced center backs such as Joakins Atudo, Samuel Olwande, and David ‘Calabar’ Owino to be deployed in the position.

With Amos Nondi putting on a Man of the Match performance against Iran by displaying his exceptional technical abilities and calmness needed in defense, we look to have finally found a right back we can trust.

At the age of 24, Nondi looks to give more than a decade of service to Stars should he maintain his form and it will not be surprising if he makes the move to a better league as he is currently on the books of Ararat-Armenia in Armenia.

On the bench were other two capable right-backs, Tusker FC’s Daniel Sakari and his namesake Ayembe who earned his debut in the clash against Iran.

Over reliance on Olunga

At the age of 29, it's only less than 10 years before we bid farewell to Olunga in the national team but no young striker is being groomed for the position.

Apart from Olunga’s solo effort, there was little meaningful attack in the game which means that without the Al Duhail forward this would have otherwise been a drab game.

Gor Mahia’s Benson Omala who is the current top scorer of the local league is the closest asset we have to Olunga but he was denied the chance as he was dropped from the final squad that faced Iran.

If Firat is talking about building a future team for Harambee Stars it has to start with young players and since the Iran game had no prizes other than being a friendly, it would have been wise to hand young players a chance to test themselves against top opposition.

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