The look on the faces of the Kenyan players as they walked through the media zone – that place where journalists can have flash interviews with them – told it all. Stern, intense, even angry.
This is not what they had expected, but they had just been beaten 2-0 by Algeria in their opening Group ‘C’ match on Sunday night at the 30 June Stadium in Cairo.
Losing to the 11th ranked team in Africa is by no means a dishonour, but it is the manner they went down, and stayed down that stirred up indignation from even the most loyal of fan.
Kenya coach Sebastien Migne, who had days before the tournament kicked off, told Kenyans to lower their expectations of the team, said at the post-match press conference: “I accept to lose but not in this way. Not the way we played in the first half.”
It is hard to explain what would have happened to the Kenyan lads. Second best from their qualifiers group that included Ghana, boasting a solid defensive record, a three-week camp in Paris and two credible build-up match results seemed to suggest that the team would hold its own here in Egypt.
The first few minutes indicated otherwise, as the raucous Algerian fans, who dominated the stadium, went full cry to the throbbing boom of a drum as their Desert Foxes ran rings round the Stars.
Djabel Benlambi sent a long ball from deep that the Kenya backline, seating high up in the field, misread and Sofiane Feghouli was onto the ball in flash giving Kenya anxious moments.
A second such ball minutes later again caused problems for Migne’s back four of centre backs Joseph Okumu and Musa Mohammed and fullbacks Philomen Otieno and Aboud Omar.
It got worse. The Kenyans lads simply could not control the ball, let alone hold on to it.
Francis Kahata, Ayub Timbe, Eric Omollo, known ball players in the team, appeared to be wearing trampolines. They could not control the ball, and without any purposeful build-up there was never going to be any attack play of note.
Michael Olunga, who looked hungry, was never serviced all evening with a Kenya midfield that just could not cope with the skills, chemistry and pressing of the Desert Foxes whose confidence even became cocky as the match went on.
Only Victor Wanyama seemed to have put on his football shoes in this lost Stars cause, showing his class as a Uefa Champions League player with his control and passing.
'ONE GAME AT A TIME'
The first goal should never have been. Youcef Atal, Nice’s quality fullback, was given too much space on the right flank to drive into Kenya’s dangerous area. A rash Dennis Odhiambo hacked him down.
With the form dangerous Qatari’s Al Sadd striker Baghdad Bounedjah is in, there was only going to be one outcome with the penalty kick.
Manchester City midfielder Riyad Mahrez, operating on the right flank, smashed in the second from close range after some sloppy clearance from Otieno.
The first half ended with Kenya thankful they had not conceded more goals.
Stars showed some improvement in the second half, with the introduction of Johanna Omolo the most promising. He was involved in two of Kenya’s best build-ups of the match and will have staked a claim in the starting eleven.
“We were afraid, it is a simple as that,” Omolo said.
“It is a difficult tournament. We will take one game at a time,” said Kenya captain Wanyama.
Next up is Tanzania on Thursday at the 30 June Stadium.
There is no hiding place at this stage and Kenya must raise their game several levels or confirm the passage back home with one game to play.