Ibrahima Kone struck a first-half hat-trick as Mali returned to the top of Group E of the 2022 Africa World Cup qualifiers with an unbalanced side 5-0 win over Kenya in Agadir, Morocco.
Adama Traore gave the Malians the lead with a neat finish between Ian Otieno’s legs on eight minutes, before Ibrahima Kone nodded home the second on 21 minutes after another defensive lapse by the Harambee Stars backline.
Kone then made it 3-0 nine minutes to the break, this time in an empty net after he fell at the end of a flick after Kenya failed to deal with Traore’s corner.
Kone then completed his hat-trick from the spot, sending Otieno the wrong way and rifling his shot on the roof after Southampton attacker Moussa Djenepo was brought down inside the area by substitute Abdallah Hassan.
Shikhalo, on at half-time for Ian Otieno in Stars goal, was unlucky after sending the ball back into his own net after Moussa Doumbia’s initial shot hit the upright on 86 minutes to complete Kenya’s worse loss in over a decade.
Harambe Stars coach Engin Firat had made two substitutes midway through the half, with Joash Onyango, who had been started out of position at right-back, giving way for Bandari winger Abdallah Hasssan while Lawrence Juma was withdrawn for Tusker youngster Eric Zakayo.
This was Zakayo’s first cap in Stars colors.
The two substitutions did little to avert the massacre, with Kone scoring twice to end the half 4-0 on top.
With Uganda beating Rwanda 1-0 in Kigali earlier on Thursday in the other Group E affair, Mali had their work cut out – only a win would ensure they return to the summit of the standings before Sunday’s return leg in Nairobi.
Uganda also hosts Rwanda in Kitende on Sunday.
Kenya, now out to ensure they don’t suffer further damage, brought on goalkeeper Shikhalo for Ian Otieno before the restart before Boniface Muchiri replaced Henry Meja midway through the second half.
Kenya had two huge chances in the opening minute of both halves, with skipper Michael Olunga failing to hit the target with both attempts.
The Malians, with the game already out of Kenya’s reach, slowed the tempo in the second half, but still controlled proceedings although they didn’t trouble Shikhalo much in Stars goal.
Firat, whose appointment last month caused a major uproar given his poor track record in his previous workstations, will have plenty to ponder about on their way back home with time, not on his side.
The Turkish tactician shockingly signed a two-month contract to replace Jacob “Ghost” Mulee last month.