NAIROBI, April 12 – Harambee Starlets on Tuesday wrote history as they qualified for their first ever Africa Cup of Nations after edging out power house Algeria 3-3 on aggregate to advance on the away goal rule.
Following the result, Kenya booked a ticket for the final tournament scheduled for Cameroon in November.
Cherish Avillia stepped off the bench to score the equalizer and help Starlets settle for a 1-1 draw in the return leg played at Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium and as a result squeezed through after holding Algeria 2-2 in the first-leg away in Algiers.
“Normally, I don’t play as a full back but when the coach gave me the opportunity, he asked me to play both the roles since we wanted more people forward. I was confident coming in and I knew we would score,” goal scorer Avillia said after the match.
Captain Mary Kinuthia said, “We are overwhelmed with joy, it was a big match for us. We never gave up even when we went a goal down and our fighting spirit pulled us through. It is a great joy for us to represent the country at AFCON for the first time and coming through against a team like Algeria gives us a lot of confidence.”
Naima Bouheni opened the scorings for the visitors in the 21st minute, but a combination of two substitutes saw Starlets level and achieve their landmark dream.
Christine Nafula, who had come on for Tabaka Chacha set up Avillia from a set piece to see the forward hit the target into the bottom left corner in her first attempt.
While Starlets searched for an early goal that would calm their nerves, it was Algeria who found the back of the net first through Naima, who netted both goals in the first leg.
The speedy winger picked up a free kick unmarked at the far post from Miryiam Yasmine to tap home past Starlets keeper Samantha Adhiambo who scrambled to keep away the ball.
The Lady Fennecs had camped in the Kenyan half knowing well the only way they would keep the tie alive is by getting a goal.
On the other end, Starlets created chances with Neddie Atieno hitting over the bar with a long range effort.
Kenya thought they had found the opener on the 14th minute when Manwalima Adam struck home only for the goal to be ruled off side.
Five minutes after the North Africans scored, Starlets had a superb chance through Mbeyu Akida who hit the ball high from six yards after the keeper had spilled a cross from Atieno.
Two minutes later, Stars came close again with Kinuthia rattling the crossbar from a ferocious shot on her weaker left foot after a good work from Adam who swung in the cross.
At the start of the second half, Starlets keeper Samantha Akinyi pulled off a superb point blank save to deny the Algerians a second gal when she put her body on the line to block a shot from danger girl Bouhani.
The goal was a wakeup call to the Kenyan girls and immediately, Ouma made changes that completely changed the face of the game.
Avillia came on for right back Ann Aluoch before midfielder Tabaka Chacha paved way for youngster Vivian Corazon.
Avillia made an almost immediate impact when swinging in a dangerous freekick from the right which the Algerian keeper punched away.
15 minutes from time, Kinuthia was brought down at the edge of the box after doing well to skip past her marker.
Nafula stepped on the resultant freekick, choosing to take a routine from the training ground, rolling the ball to Avillia at the edge of the box who in turn swung home a decent shot.
Kinuthia should have given Starlets the second goal to fully burry the match, but her effort went agonizingly wide after being fed by Atieno.
Despite four added minutes, Starlets managed to put up a solid defensive show with the burly Corazon doing well to break up play and winning most of the aerial duels.
Starlets will now shift their attention to preparations for their maiden show in continental football and the Federation as well as the government has promised maximum support.