The Carthage Eagles managed to win in Nairobi despite tenacious play from their Kenyan opponents.
The Harambee stars came into the match defending an unbeaten home streak they carried over from the previous round of qualifying while their visitors came in with the knowledge that a negative result would seriously complicate things in a group that also featured Mozambique and heavyweights Nigeria.
Heavy rains started to fall as the starting whistle was about to sound and Fahid Ben Khalfallah aimed to take advantage of the climactic conditions straight away by shooting at keeper off the kick off but his attempt from the halfway line was off target. The rain did not favor the Tunisians who found great trouble in playing their short passing game and were reduced to lofting ineffective balls upfield for the majority of the opening stages.
Nevertheless, the Carthage Eagles managed to open the scoring against the run of play when they earned a corner which was cleared by the Kenyan defense to Fahid Ben Khalfallah who found no trouble in dribbling past his marker and crossing to an unmarked Ammar Jemal. The Etoile du Sahel defender controlled the ball and swiveled his body to finish admirably with his left foot in the 5th minute.
Although this was the ideal scenario for the visitors, the team struggled thereafter against a Kenyan side that played with a great deal of confidence and fighting spirit. The Harambee Stars dominated the midfield for long spells as the match took on a more physical dimension with the slick playing surface causing both sides problems.
The Kenyans got their first serious chance when a clever Dennis Oliech found himself almost through on goal off of a clever backheel from his team-mate in midfield but could not get past Radh Jaidi. The Tunisian captain followed up his clearance by almost making a gigantic error by putting the ball past his own keeper. Thankfully for him, the ball went wide. The Kenyan attackers continued to cause problems for the Tunisian defense, especially Bayer Leverkusen’s Karim Haggui who looked far off his usual national team form.
The beginning of the second half saw changes from both sides, with Oussemma Darragi taking Aymen Demai’s place in midfield on the Tunisian side and Bonifca Ambani coming in for Hilary Echesa for the Kenyans. Antoine Hey’s men looked the more lively in the opening stages as they pressed for an equalizer and had a fair number of chances but none of them caused the Tunisian goalkeeper much difficulty. In fact, it was the Tunisians who nearly added to their lead in the 60th minute finish was called back for offside.
The Lens forward then missed a golden opportunity to seal the match for the visitors after good work on the left side from Darragi and substitute Mohamed Ali Ghariani ended with Jemaa putting his header wide despite being unmarked. Humberto Coelho’s players were quickly made to rue the chance after a defensive mistake gifted the Kenyans their deserved equalizer in 68th minute through none other than their leading goalscorer in the previous round of qualifying, Dennis Oliech.
The crowd erupted with joy but their celebrations only lasted three minutes as Jemaa atoned for his earlier miss when a Darragi interception put him clear through on goal. Jemaa, who scored his first international goal against Kenya in Nairobi in 2005, made no mistake this time and fired past the Kenyan goalkeeper from inside the box with his powerful left foot in the 71st minute. Carthage Eagles coach Coelho then brought on defender Seif Ghezal for midfielder Tijani Belaid as insurance for the poorly performing Tunisian central defenders.
However, this did not dissuade the Kenyans from committing almost all their players to attack in search for the equalizer. The pressure was beginning to mount once more but Robert Mambo’s header found the crossbar instead of the back of the net in the 81st minute and then the same player put another header wide two minutes after. The final minutes of the match were very tense and apart from a long shot from distance that was well saved by the Kenyan keeper, the Tunisians were content to sit back and hold onto the result. The conservative approach paid off when the Cameroonian whistled the end of the half, giving Tunisia their first three points of the qualifying campaign.
KENYA 1 – 2 TUNISIA
GOALS: Jemal 5’, Jemaa 71’ (Tunisia) , Oliech 68’ (Kenya)
TUNISIA: Hamdi Kasraoui, Radhi Jaïdi, Karim Haggui, Anis Boussaïdi , Ammar Jmal, Houcine Erregued, Aymen Demai (Oussemma Darragi 45’), Wissem Ben Yahia , Fahid Ben Khalfallah (Mohamed Ali Ghariani 57’), Issam Jomâa, Tijani Belaïd (Seif Ghezal 71’)
KENYA: Noah Ayuko, Musa Otieno, George Owino, Pascal Ochieng, John Mwangi (Victor Wanyama 69’), Hilary Echesa (Bonifca Ambani 45’), Francis Ouma (Patrick Oboya 52’), Dennis Oliech, Macdonald, Maria, Mulinge Ndeto, Robert Mambo
Rami Ayari, Goal.com