Adel Amrouche is yet to win a game as manager of the Kenya national team, but he showed some great tactical astuteness in his side’s 2-2 draw with Lesotho.
The Algerian born tactician went with a 4-3-3 from the start and it was clear that Kenya were the better side – confident on the ball and passing it around with ease. It did not seem to show that these players were involved in League action over the weekend for their respective clubs, or that they were jet-lagged for having travelled from Kenya to Zambia on the day of the game.
But by the half hour, the fatigue had crept in and the passing became a bit less sharp. The pressing on the opponents also reduced, letting the Basotho have more of the ball and hence gain confidence with every passing minute.
Drop in Tempo
As the tempo dropped, Kenya were forced into more desperate tackles in an attempt to prevent Lesotho from capitalising on the ball. Peter Opiyo had to be warned by the referee for a two footed tackle.
The drop in tempo also meant that on the ball, the midfielders stopped providing support to the defence, and this in most times led to the defence lacking options to pass to, or forced them into unforced errors. Teddy Akumu for example, who was meant to be the midfield pivot played the latter stages of the first half very far away from his defensive pairing of Joackins Atudo and David Ochieng’.
The first Lesotho goal however came from an inexplicable two footed lunge by Atudo on Litsepe Marabe, and after having allowed the advantage, referee Victor Gomes awarded the penalty seconds later.
With Kenya’s possession not amounting to anything, Amrouche brought on Paul Kiongera in the second half for the ineffective Kennedy Otieno. It was a straight swap upfront – but the more mobile Kiongera provided a more physical presence and became a target to hit with crosses.
Amrouche then altered his 4-3-3 to a more 4-2-3-1’ish formation. Opiyo dropped deeper to join Akumu at the base of defense, while Edwin Lavatsa now stuck wide on the right touchline.
What was surprising was that Francis Kahata, the team’s main playmaker was pushed wide to the left, with Andrew Murunga operating behind Kiongera.
Murunga had been the most impressive attacking player in the first half, drifting in with penetrating runs from the left hand side and looking to shoot. It could be that Amrouche thought the Tusker FC man could pose more of a threat with his direct running from a more central position.
Either way, it did not work as it became increasingly difficult to tell whether Murunga was playing as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, or as a second striker in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. Meanwhile, Kahata’s cultured left foot looked lost on the left wing.
Were brings impetus
Realising this, Amrouche took off Murunga and replaced him with Paul Were. Kahata now moved into the center in a clear attacking midfield role as Were pushed up wide on the left.
Immediately, Were got the ball and with his first dribble drew a foul and a yellow card for his Lesotho opponent. It became a feature of the second half – Were running past the right back, or being passed to the ball in acres of space wide down the left hand side.
By then however, Harambee Stars were already 2-0 down. A 50-50 challenge in the middle of the pitch led to a ball being cleared towards the Kenyan goal. While pressing for the equaliser, the Kenyan defence had pressed high up. This made David Ochieng’s blunder even more fatal. His attempted swing at the ball amounted to an air shot, and as the ball trickled through, Thapelo Thale was left with plenty of time to pick his spot as he faced Duncan Ochieng’ one on one.
While the second Lesotho goal brought more confidence to the Crocodiles and allowed them a period of decent possession, the Were change returned the possession dominance Kenya’s way. For a brief period before the 70th minute, Kenya had 90% possession, and their average in the second half ranked around the mid 60’s.
With possession firmly in their grasp, Kenya spent the last 20 minutes piling on the pressure on the Lesotho goal. Poor crossing by Lavatsa and Were meant there were not as many chances created as there should have been.
Another key feature of the game was the incessant overlapping of Kenya’s right back, David Owino. The Gor Mahia man got forward to good effect, but rarely was the ball worked to him. When Kenya lost possession while he was on this forward forays, Lesotho attacked the vacancy left behind him. They did not however manage to fully capitalise on that.
When finally Owino did get the ball, he sent in the cross for club teammate Kiongera to head in one back for the Kenyans with eight minutes to go. Kenya’s relentless pressure would lead to Lesotho conceding a penalty on 90 minutes; Atudo made amends for his earlier mistake by leveling the game from the spot.
There was only one more clear-cut chance for the Kenyans – Kahata slid in Kiongera but Kholue Phasumane in the Lesotho goal made a brilliant save. In injury time, Lesotho almost got a winner when they were two on two with the Kenyan defence but the eventual shot went wide.
Kenya started brightly, lost their way in the middle, but quick thinking from Amrouche brought them back into the game. Amrouche will however be disappointed as his two center backs were solely responsible for the two goals conceded due to their individual mistakes.
But by battling to earn a point, and with another game in 24 hours, Kenya will wonder whether it is too much to ask of the player’s physical levels.