Avilia fires Starlets to Africa Championships history
Super substitute Cheris Avilia Salono’s second half goal fired Kenya to Cameroon 2016 CAF Africa Women’s Championships finals as Harambee Starlets edged out north African giants Algeria on away goals after a nerve wracking 1-1 draw in Nairobi on Tuesday.
Besides making history after booking their first ever ticket to the continental showpiece, Starlets will be the first Kenyan team to make the continental senior finals since the men’s side made the 2004 AFCON in Tunisia.
The two-legged tie ended 3-3 on aggregate but Starlets under David Ouma clinched the ticket for the Cameroon finals on the away goals after forcing Algeria to a 2-2 draw last Friday in Algiers.
It is the North Africans who turned the tie to their favour after fashioning a 1-0 lead at half time in the well-attended clash played in Nairobi’s Safaricom Stadium that was enough to send them through with Bouheni Naima’s strike in the 21st minute.
Naima, who also scored in the first leg, punished Starlets after goalkeeper Samantha Akinyi stoped Fatima Bara’s free kick but failed to hold onto it before the speedy forward gobbled up the rebound to leave the stadium that had high hopes crestfallen in despair.
It was ruthless punishment for Kenya who started on a high tempo with Mwanahalima Adam after being put through on goal from the midfield by Esse Mbeyu Okida in the fourth but the wasteful finish undid the good build-up play.
Two minutes later Starlets had a shout for a penalty when Fethia Bekhada appeared to handle the ball in the box but the referee waved all appeals for the spot-kicks and the home crowd was further agitated in the 14th when Mwanahalima tucked away Mary Wanjiku Kinuthia’s cross into the net, beating Algeria’s custodian Fedoul Badger, but the effort was ruled offside.
-Threat to dreams-
And in cruel fashion, the home girls saw their Cameroon dream and fairy tale almost snatched from their grip when Algeria went ahead seven minutes later from a lapse of concentration.
Undeterred, Ouma’s charges should have been level in the 26th when Mbenyu pounced on onto Nadjet’s poor clearance to unleash a powerful shot but it went over the bar with the goal begging.
Barely 60 seconds later, Mwanahalima danced around the opponent’s defense before crossing to find Kinuthia in the box but she fired wide as the visitors who went in for the breather with the advantage.
In the 52nd, Ouma brought on Salono for Ann Alouch, before introducing Vivian Aquino Odhiambo for Caroline Anyango Omondi.
The two piled the pressure to the visitors as the game approached the 70th minute, the home crowd was rising with anticipation.
Ouma further rested Tabaka Chacha for Christine Nafula, and shortly after, the defining moment in Kenyan women football history arrived with a quarter of an hour to go to the end of regulation when Starlets were awarded a set-piece.
Nafula shot a free-kick to the left that caused panic in the Algerian box since they were expecting it to be played ton the right of the box with the cutback allowing Salono to ghost in and beat the diving Nadget for the equaliser.
Algeria came out of their shells to seek a second goal that would have swung the tie to their favour and after a flurry of late chances, including a ball that was cleared off the line in added time, Starlets could start the party to history as the home crowd broke into jubilation.