There was no better way to do it. He did it with the head, where the brain lies, literally; a thumping header that shredded the hearts of Latvians, tearing wide open the home side’s tear glands.
Kenyan international Joseph Stanley Okumu – the man who dons the number 2 jersey for K.A.A. Gent – announced himself to Europe in an empathic fashion on Thursday.
In all fairness, the Harambee Stars defender has endured a difficult start to life in Belgium, since completing his move from Swedish top tier outfit IF Elfsborg in June after two years in Boras.
Prior to Thursday’s crunch tie in Riga, Okumu had started four of the six games for Gent in the UEFA Conference League and Belgian Pro League, scoring an own goal in the second leg of the second qualifying round of the Conference League against Norwegian hosts Valerenga which they lost 2-0. They, however, progressed into the next round on a 4-2 aggregate, following a 4-0 win in the first leg which the lanky center back watched from the bench.
Speaking to TV47 Digital from Ghent City, the Kakamega High School alumnus remains optimistic to change the difficult start to life in Belgium. He alludes all that to bad luck.
“I cannot say it has been difficult really, no. Maybe just an unfortunate start. We have been doing good but not taking chances and then we get punished by a single chance,” Okumu said.
Okumu grabs first goal for KAA Gent
Just 45 minutes into the first leg match at the Ghelamco Arena last Thursday and Okumu in the starting lineup, Gent were trailing Rigas FS 2-0.
Gent, however, fought back in the second half to earn a 2-2 draw and left Belgium on Wednesday aware of the task ahead of them; a win or a high-scoring draw on away turf.
The game was too close to call, no breakthrough for either side at Stadions Arkadija.
It got nervous for the visiting side, into the last quarter of an hour, Gent were not yet off the hook with Okumu deployed to the right side of the trio that also included Michal Ngadeu and Bruno Godeau.
It took the intervention of the 24-year-old to bag the elusive away goal; the towering defender rose to the occasion, literally rising above everyone else to thump home a thunderous header in the 73rd minute and record a 1-0 win that secured them a playoff round spot on a 3-2 aggregate.
The goal left the hearts of the home base in tatters and tears.
“It’s a big one. After a bad start, we had the pressure to bounce back. Scoring my first goal in Europe is amazing,” the former Chemelil Sugar man said.
A first European goal and his first for the club is expected to give the defender, tipped as a future Harambee Stars captain, confidence as his Belgium fairytale starts.
Okumu now seeks to help his team win at home to Beerschot in the Belgian Pro League tomorrow (Sunday), before shifting focus to UEFA Conference League playoff opponents and Polish Super Cup winners Raków Częstochowa on Thursday, August, 19, 2021.
The writer, Julius Jumah, is the TV47 Sports Editor