Defending champions Harambee Stars were on Tuesday bundled out of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup after suffering a chastening 4-1 defeat in the hands of a well-drilled and determined Red Sea Boys of Eritrea at the KCCA Lugogo Stadium, Kampala.
Kenya, with head coach Francis Kimanzi back on the touchline never came to the party and found the pace of the Red Sea Boys too much to handle.
Captain Robel Kidane, Habte Grebremasqel and Abel Okbay scored one each as Oscar Wamalwa’s own goal ensured the worst defeat to any team so far in the tournament, sending the lowly ranked Red Sea Boys into the final set for Thursday.
Wamalwa was the man to bag Kenya’s consolation, as the holders struggled to make any meaningful impact in the forgettable showdown, at least in the last decade in any international outing.
Kenneth Muguna’s two crosses and one from Abdallah Hassan on the right channel could not be converted within the opening 10 minutes, and Eritrea was showing boldness in executing their usual short passes against the champions.
In the 17th, the Sea Boys came close with captain Robel Teklemicahel hitting the crossbar, keeper Odhiambo already beaten. They however needed just a minute to cover the lost opportunity.
Wamalwa scored in his own net trying to stop Kidane’s shot from the left corner, giving Eritrea the opener with goalkeeper Odhiambo looking confused even for the most basic duty.
Kidane had outdone Joash Onyango before sending the jinx-breaker cross, only for Odhiambo to punch timidly back into the box where a racing Wamalwa could not help when the ball bounced upon his leg.
With Stars trailing and Eritrea still pressing hard, head coach Francis Kimanzi in the 27th withdrew Roy Okal for Whyvonne Isuza, seeking to add more mettle in the midfield.
Kenya’s troubles appeared to escalate especially on the right back, where Kidane was having easy time to roam around. It was more complicated with quite less action upfront on the same channel, while the midfield marshals Lawrence Juma and Muguna were lost in their area.
Ali Suleiman Ibrahim had only Odhiambo to deal with on Kenya’s goal, but the hitherto besieged Western Stima custodian calmed down to deny from a close range.
Kimanzi had to change again, this time after Kevin Kimani was injured, bringing on youthful Kariobangi Sharks’ Daniel Sakari.
It was not getting better for Kenya, with Eritreans exhibiting more intent buoyed by their early opener towards the break, in the simmering mid-day heat of Kampala.
Only four minutes after the restart, Abel Okbay caught Odhiambo unawares with his shot from centre field, extendig Eritrea’s lead much to the chagrin of the few Kenyans following the proceedings at the KCCA Stadium. It was worse on the Kenyan men on the pitch, whose body language showed no signs of resurgence.
Kimanzi immediately introduced Musa Masika for right back Samuel Olwande, who so unlike him, had quite a bad day in office.
Stars pulled one back in the 52nd through Wamalwa, his third of the tournament from Onyango’s assist, the latter having nodded Muguna’s free kick to hit the post, before the ball ricocheted to the Ulinzi Stars’ striker path.
Momentarily, Stars showed composure and forced Eritrea to sit back for while, a good reaction from the Efrem Haile charges who were cleverly regrouping to hit again.
And soon after resettling, substitute Grebremasqel added the third in the 67th, Kenya’s desperate urgency to restore parity haunting them.
And they were not yet done. Kidane sealed the huge victory in the 73rd minute, ensuring their march into their fisrt ever CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup final was done in style, against seven-time winners Kenya.
Onyango, the Gor Mahia stalwart, was not in his typical impeccable ball timing mode either, doing little to stop Eritrea. A mercurial Kidane would have made it a pentagon, after easily tearing apart the Kenya’s defence only to fumble in his execution, with Odhiambo again looking lost.
Odhiambo, the man who had kept two clean sheets in two group matches, was also so unsure of what to do with the unending onslaughts, enduring a tough time from the team composed of eight players of the Under-20 Eritrea side.
On the terraces, Ugandans who were already in the stadium in numbers waiting for the second semifinal against Tanzania, were all singing and chanting against Kenya, their regional rivals.
It was guess work for Stars to the agony of Kimanzi until the end, as the minnows who were playing in the CECAFA Senior Challenge semis for the first time in 25 years ruthlessly sent home the 2017 champions.
Kenya will play the loser between hosts Uganda Cranes and Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Stars, in the playoffs that will curtain raise the Thursday final.