Kenya’s home-based Harambee Stars squad defended gallantly in Dar es Salaam and held Taifa Stars of Tanzania to a scoreless draw in the first leg of Champions of African Nations (CHAN) qualifier on Sunday afternoon.
Captained by the vastly-experienced Dennis Odhiambo of Sofapaka, Sebastien Migne’s charges now hold the home advantage over Tanzania when they host their neigbours at Kasarani Stadium next weekend.
There was tension in the air as Tanzania vowed to avenge their 3-2 loss to Kenya at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt one month ago and Taifa Stars bolstered their squad with seven Simba Sports Club stars who left their camp in South Africa for national duty.
However, the much-touted revenge fell flat in their faces as a Kenya’s defence, marshaled by Gor Mahia’s no nonsense centre-half Joash Onyango held tight.
Harambee Stars paraded an awkwardly positioned back line in the game with Wazito’s Bernard Ochieng, a natural centre-back, deployed at right-back.
On the left played Clifton Miheso who made a name for himself as a left winger but versatile enough to play as wing back while Onyango and KCB’s Mike Kibwage occupied the centre.
The quartet made it difficult for the likes of John Bocco to find a way through and even in times when Tanzania did, goalkeeper John Oyemba, unused at the Afcon, was equal to task.
The hosts hogged most of possession as a nervy Kenya stayed back in the opening stages of the game.
Both teams built their play from the back with Tanzania seeming the most dangerous as Kenya sat back and raided their hosts on quick counter attacks.
Taifa Stars tested Oyemba with three wild efforts in the opening half while Kenya, through debutant Enosh Ochieng, failed to fashion any meaningful chance.
Kenya’s first threat came in the 46th minute from Joash Onyango who latched on to Samuel Onyango’s corner with a menacing header only to see his effort soar.
Onyango then failed to hit the target as his goal-bound shot came off Ersato Nyoni’s back as Kenya restarted strongly.
Ulinzi Stars’ Ochieng was then substituted for Pistone Mutamba in the 57th minute to give Kenya a better punch upfront.
However, it was the hosts who had the ball in the net just seconds later but the goal was chalked off for offside.
One minute later, Oyemba had to scurry off his line to save the day when a grass-cutting through ball evaded the central defence and sent Bocco on his way to score.
Whyvonne Isuza fashioned Kenya’s best chance in the 66th minute when he teed up Mutamba onto Taifa Stars goal but a heavy first touch and slow reaction saw the lanky Sofapaka man robbed and the chance gone.
Samuel Onyango could also have done better when teed up by Mutamba but was forced away from goal in the 83rd minute.
The Sofapaka man was also guilty of missing the target from inside the box when his wild shot veered way off with four minutes of regular time remaining.
Harambee Stars held on in the remaining minutes to take a point on the road and set up a big home performance in seven days.