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Kenya’s World Cup journey brought to a halt by Mali

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A second successive loss against Mali on Sunday meant Kenya’s journey towards the 2022 FIFA World Cup had come to a screeching halt. The Harambee Stars lost 1-0 to Les Aigles, having suffered an embarrassing 5-0 thrashing in the first leg played in Morocco last Thursday.

The result means Kenya remains third in Group E with two points and Mali have stretched out on top to 10. With two rounds of matches remaining, Kenya cannot mathematically get to the top and earn a slot to the final qualification round.

Mali and Uganda, who won 1-0 against Rwanda in Kampala, will battle it out for the single available ticket.

Kenya and Rwanda will play for pride in the final two games. Stars play away to Uganda in Kampala before finishing at home against Rwanda, both rounds of matches scheduled for next month.

In the return tie against Mali, Ibrahima Kone, the guy who scored a hattrick in the 5-0 drubbing in Agadir, scored the lone goal 10 minutes after halftime to hand Mali maximum points and a comfortable place on top.

Having picked lessons from his horrendous fielding in the first leg, coach Engin Firat made changes in the return tie.

Brian Bwire started in goal in place of Faruk Shikalo who came off the bench in the first leg, Erick Ouma was played as a right back with Joash Onyango stepping to the bench. Abdallah Hassan, Boniface Muchiri and Duke Abuya all who came off the bench in Agadir started.

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Stars showed a much improved performance as they commanded the game better, were more organized and Ouma, a natural left back fielded on the right, didn’t put a foot wrong most of the match.

Stars were quicker off the blocks and in the eighth minute, the Malian keeper was already tested with Abuya stinging his gloves with a powerful shot from inside the box after a cutback from Olunga.

Three minutes later, it was Olunga’s turn to have an eye for goal and this time rose well to head home a cross from Muchiri on the left, but his towering header could only skip over the bar.

Off a counter attack, Stars should have been one up in the 20th minute but Muchiri’s curling effort was parried away by the keeper after being out through by Olunga. Hassan twice had good opportunities to either cross or go for goal on the right, but both his decisions at the tail end let him down.

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Mali were limited in their chances and the only time they came close was at the stroke of halftime when Diadie Samassekou’s looping header from Musa Djenepo’s cross hit the bar and keeper Bwire bounced up to collect the rebound.

At the start of the second half, Stars should have grabbed the lead when Olunga found some space to slash in a low cross into the box, but Hassan who was sliding in at the back post could not arrive in time to tap it home.

They were punished for that missed chance on the opposite end in the 55th minute. Kone slammed the ball home with a first time shot after Charles Traore found some space on the right to drag back a cross to the edge of the six yard box.

It was a blow on the bosom for Kenya who had shown so much promise, but were punished for failing to take their chances.

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Despite going down, they kept their fight with Henry Meja and Eric Kapaito being introduced to add punch into the striking force. Stars thought they should have had a penalty when a Meja shot struck a Malian arm in the box, but the ref waved play on.

Despite concerted efforts, it was all in vain as Stars saw the ship to Qatar sail off the harbour without them on board.

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