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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2019: Kenya’s Migne defends Matasi till the end

4:30 AM WAT 05/07/2019
Harambee Stars coach Sebastien Migne in Egypt.
Retaining the Saint George goalkeeper was one of the French coach’s big decisions, although it remains to be seen if it was a wise decision

Sebastien Migne refused to throw Patrick Matasi under the bus in the aftermath of Kenya’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations defeat at the hands of Senegal in their final group game on Monday.

While the Harambee Stars had been positioned among the better-placed third-placed teams heading into the final matchday, their defensive capitulation against the Teranga Lions ultimately cost them.

Ahead of the final day, Kenya had three points and a -1 goal difference, and would have progressed with a draw against the West Africans.

For over an hour, it appeared to be on the cards, only for a mix-up between Matasi and Philemon Otieno to allow Ismaila Sarr in to open the scoring.

Matasi had been one of Kenya’s star performers in the match up to that point, but as has been something of a common theme during this tournament; when stoppers for some of the ‘lesser lights’ have started playing well, they’ve occasionally been prone to overconfidence.

This appeared to be the case for the Stars’ opener, when Matasi—emboldened by his previous successes—came too far and got nothing on the ball.

After the match, Migne wasn’t prepared to point the finger of blame at the keeper.

“If we consider the first half, he wasn’t far from being Man of the Match,” Migne told journalists. “This is a high level, and keeping concentration [is important].”

Certainly, the stopper had been one of Kenya’s top performers up until the hour mark.

He deserves immense credit for coming out boldly to block a shot on 26 minutes, and made a fine stop three minutes later.

Just before the half-time whistle, he kept the scores level with an amazing save, and soon after the break, parried clear from another dangerous chance—albeit with evidence of some jitters.

In the 59th minute, he blocked an effort from Mbaye Niang—which was admittedly right at him—and three minutes later, had come too far—calamitously—to allow Senegal the fatal opening.

Against Tanzania, Matasi’s performance had been mixed; he palmed Mbwana Samatta’s shot right into the path of Simon Msuva to open the scoring, but did tip over a free kick that appeared goal-bound in the 22nd minute.

However, his rashness was evident as the Taifa Stars added a second; David Owino was caught out of position, and Matasi came far too far—stranding himself—opening the door for Samatta to finish calmly.

After that match, Migne’s decisions regarding defensive personnel came under the spotlight, but should too his decision to have stuck with Matasi?

The goalkeeper’s performances had come in for increasing criticism ahead of the campaign after a critical error against Ghana in qualifying, and another in a pre-tournament friendly.

It was little surprise that he appeared nervy during the early stages against Algeria, and this nervous energy is transmitted to the backline.

It clearly was for a Harambee Stars side that showed little of the defensive solidity they demonstrated during qualifying—at least until that first hour against Senegal.

Matasi could have already been the villain during the Kenya game, when he came out and completely missed the ball, allowing Baghdad Bounedjah a free header which the hotshot mercifully sent over the bar.

He improved in the second half, but by then it was too late, his erratic performance had undermined the defence’s confidence, and the die had been cast.

Migne later complained of a lack of options, and he has a point, neither of his backup goalkeeping options—Farouk Shikalo or John Oyemba—had played for the national side before being named in the Egypt-bound squad.

Perhaps the French coach made a rod for his own back when he opted to exclude Gor Mahia’s Boniface Oluoch from his plans.

While the experienced keeper is by no means the second coming of Gianluigi Buffon, he would have at least put some pressure on Matasi and given Migne an option.

“I’d like to have had more competition between the sticks, to push Matasi,” Migne added, "but Patrick helped us qualify, we were celebrated for our clean sheets.

“What didn’t help was the injuries to our two centre-backs before the tournament, it affects everyone from my striker to the goalkeeper,” the coach concluded. 

“We didn’t help him enough to the end of the match. We’ll continue to work hard, so that in all of the positions there is competition. Competition helps you to progress.”

The flawed Oluoch, who won the KPL Goalkeeper of the Year award in consecutive seasons under Frank Nuttall, could have been this ‘competition’. 

Lesson learned, perhaps, but too late to help the Stars prevent their Afcon campaign from ending early.