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Why Stars lost: Poor tactics, wrong fielding

If Harambee Stars coach Stanley Okumbi had gotten his team selection right, if the tactics would have been spot on, if the team would have had a proven and reliable playmaker, then perhaps the heartbreaking loss to Guinea Bissau would have been forestalled.

The farcical display that resulted in a 1-0 loss to the host team on Wednesday night left Kenya in a precarious position in their qualification campaign for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations finals.

From the moment the match kicked off under the sweltering Bissau heat, Stars were clearly not psyched for the battle that lay ahead.

Erratic team selection and substitutions by coach Stanley Okumbi during the match only helped to worsen the situation.

Okumbi opted to try a new 4-1-4-1 formation switching from the conventional 4-4-2 preferred by his predecessors, an experiment that backfired.

This formation did not make the team tick as skipper Victor Wanyama was chosen as the only guard to the defence with Patillah Omotto, Eric Johanna, Clifton Miheso and Johanna Omollo all lumped up in the heart of midfield while lone striker Michael Olunga remained isolated upfront.

The decision to stick with Musa Mohammed at right back, when it was evident that he was having an off day was also puzzling.

LEFT BACK POSITION

Interestingly, Okumbi had two alternatives for the left back position. Its unclear why neither Omar Mbongi nor Thika United skipper Dennis Odhiambo, who are both accomplished left backs, were left out of the starting line up.

James Situma, making a return to the team after a long period in the cold, gave an assured performance as an auxiliary left back but Okumbi could have had him operate at right back in place of Mohammed to create room for either Odhiambo or Mbongi.

In midfield, Stars clearly lacked the guile and artistry of a playmaker who could deliver the balls to Olunga. As a result, Olunga often had to fall deep to pick the balls from midfield.

Smart coaches do tinker with their formations when things are not going according to plan and Okumbi should have made early changes to salvage the situation.

With the other Group E match between Zambia and Congo ending in a 1-1 draw, a win for Kenya could have brought them within touching distance of the joint leaders.

As the group stand, Congo and Zambia both have 5 points while Guinea Bissau have leapfrogged Kenya into third place with 4 points. Stars are at the tail end with just a point from three matches.

Okumbi’s charges must now win all their three remaining matches – beginning with Sunday’s return match against the West Africans – to keep alive their slim hopes of qualification.

Still, they would hope that both Congo and Zambia drops points along the way for them to sneak through as group leaders.