A disastrous first half saw the East Africans concede four as the Eagles reclaimed top spot in their pool
Kenya coach Engin Firat started his reign as Harambee Stars boss with a humiliating 5-0 loss to Mali in Group E of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers on Thursday night.
The East Africans had hoped to get a positive outcome at Agadir Stadium in Morocco, but a hat-trick from Ibrahima Kone and an Adama Traore strike, coupled with a late own goal by substitute Farouk Shikhalo sealed the deal for the Eagles.
It was Kenya who threatened early as Aboud Omar picked his captain Michael Olunga in the first minute. The attacker positioned himself but his shot missed the target by inches.
Moments later, Johnstone Omurwa mistimed Kone’s run, eventually putting him on-side. The goalkeeper was beaten, but the end product, from the Mali team, was skyrocketed, much to the relief of the visitors.
The Eagles soon opened the scoring in the 8th minute. Joash Onyango, who was playing in an unfamiliar right-back position, gave away the ball to Kone, who teed up the unmarked Hatayspor forward Traore for an opener.
As the game progressed, both teams looked more settled, but the main concern for Harambee Stars coach was the way his charges were giving away possession easily.
Kone doubled the advantage in favour of the hosts in the 22nd minute. Charles Traore played a cross from the right to the unmarked Adama who headed the ball to the towering attacker to easily find the back of the net.
Onyango was having a bad day and was eventually replaced, with Abdallah Hassan taking his place. Lawrence Juma was also replaced by youngster Zakayo Erick as Firat sought to give his side a lift.
It changed nothing as Kone completed his brace in the 36th minute. The West Africans won a corner, Falaye Sacko flicked it on, and the unmarked Sarpsborg 08 striker tapped the ball into an empty net.
Bandari forward Hassan brought down Moussa Djenepo in the area and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Kone rose for the occasion, sending Ian Otieno the wrong way to score his third goal in the first half.
After the break, Shikhalo was introduced in place of Otieno who had failed to command his area effectively.
Olunga felt Stars should have been awarded a penalty in the 46th minute when his shot struck Sacko’s hand, but the referee waved play on amid protests from the East Africans.
As opposed to the initial half, the Eagles lowered their tempo, resorting to possess the ball and make Kenyans work harder for it. It was a way of frustrating them further to create scoring chances and get more goals. But the East Africans were not giving in.
Olunga would have scored at least a consolation in the 81st minute, but from six yards out, he headed Boniface Muchiri’s cross wide.
The miss proved costly as substitute Moussa Doumbia forced Shikhalo to an own goal. The former curled the ball against the post, and the helpless custodian just watched as the ball awkwardly hit him before bouncing in the net.
Uganda had gone top of the table, momentarily, with a 1-0 win over Rwanda in an early kick-off, but now drop to second while Mali are top, with Kenya falling to third.
Kenya will now host Mali on Sunday as the Cranes welcome Amavubi.