Olunga’s growing stature helping Stars find their shine
As the the national team Harambee Stars’ unbeaten run hit double figures and First Coach Stanley Okumbi appears to be building an increasingly formidable side, striker Michael Olunga is proving to be an indispensable figure for his setup.
The Kenyan international was the only goalscorer for the Stars in their 1-1 draw against neighbours Uganda and three days later when they overcame DR Congo 2-1 at the Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos.
While his favoured strike partner Jesse Were struggles to bring his club’s shooting boots to the national team, Olunga is thriving on both fronts and has now scored thrice in two games against DR Congo’s highly rated Leopards.
He was on target when Okumbi’s men claimed a famous 1-0 win over DR Congo in Kinshasa last year while his latest brace – on his birthday – helped the country break a 38-year winless record against the Leopards on home soil.
“I thank God for the performance and also the fans who came in large numbers and cheered us on thought the match.
“Everyone gave their best, and I personally feel it’s my time to shine. There are people who wrote me off after my move from Sweden to China but the goals say something,” Olunga said of his heroics.
His move from from Swedish top division club Djugardens IF to Chinese Super League (CSL) newcomers Guizhou Zhicheng was met with fierce criticism with many calling the switch money-motivated and step down his career trajectory.
“When I was at Gor Mahia FC I would score, just like I did when I went to Sweden. As much as the league is important, it goes down to the player’s attitude. I know I owe Kenyan’s goals because the coach has entrusted me with the striking role, therefore I must work hard,” Olunga offered.
He has been the most decisive player for Okumbi and has helped covered up for Were’s struggles.
Okumbi placed Were on the left flank at the start of the Congo’s clash, preferring a single striker with promising Ulizi Stars forward Samuel Onyango playing behind Olunga.
Okumbi, who was overjoyed after the Sunday’s win said he wants more from his players as he looked forward to the upcoming 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers.
“We need to work on our concentration more. We want to avoid conceding goals everytime we take early leads, especially in our home matches.
“I’m happy with the progress but the process of building a big pool of players continues. We cannot say we have a fixed team because other better players could emerge even tomorrow,” the soft spoken coach stated.
The pool of talent is growing steadily and Okumbi easily coped without influential midfielders Ayub Timbe (China) and Eric Johana (Sweden) and defender Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma (Georgia) in both matches.
Captain Victor Wanyama, whose output in the team was singled out by DR Congo assistant coach Zaire Mwinyi, noted improvement in the side as he called for consistency.
“It is good that we did not disappoint our very enthusiastic fans. There was a general improvement and character that enabled us soak the pressure from DR Congo especially in the last stages of the second half.
“We need to continue registering such results even in competitive matches,” the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder remarked.
At the same time, Coach Mwinyi blamed poor officiating and bad pitch for the loss of his star-studded team.
“There are a lot of things that contributed to our loss today, first being the state of the pitch. It is a poor pitch, very poor to say the least.
“The thing that disgusted us most was how the referee handled the match. He did some unacceptable things with many of his decisions going against us,” Mwinyi complained.
Kenyan referee Davies Omweno was in charge of the match, while Kenyatta stadium was the chosen venue as Moi Sports Centre Kasarani and Nyayo stadium are closed for renovations ahead of CHAN 2018.
Meanwhile, Harambee Stars will host Malawi in their third friendly of the year at the same venue on April 15.
This has been confirmed by Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa, who paid a glowing tribute to the national team soon after the win over Congo.
The Malawi friendly will however be purely a local-based players’ affair.
“I congratulate the team and the technical bench for the good performance especially the win over Congo.
“They got it right and the results show a clear progression of where the team is headed to. We now look forward to the next friendly game against Malawi, as we prepare a team for 2018 CHAN,” Mwendwa said.
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