Baraza, who misfired during the second game against Southern Sudan, came off from the bench to craft the decisive touch that turned Abdallah Juma’s mishit shot past the impressive Charles Swini in the Malawi goal with 57 minutes gone for the decisive strike.
“When my teammate was shooting, the keeper was watching the trajectory of the ball and I had to change its direction a bit since as a striker, you must always be in a good position to anticipate any ball into the box,” the man of the moment said after the match.
Stars will now face Zanzibar in the last four on Thursday after the Heroes dispatched Burundi on spot kicks on Monday hoping to nail a first final in three outings after extinguishing the Flames whom they had not beaten in their last eight meetings prior to Tuesday.
“Being a crucial stage, you don’t play it like a group stage match where you are looking for points and if you have one chance, you take it and if it gives you the advantage, you hold on to it.
“We are a team that is a combination of youth and experienced players and when we came in to the tournament, we were still gelling but as the tournament has progressed, we have improved and learned how to play with each other,” Baraza, the AFC Leopards veteran forward added after exorcising his own ghosts of failing to find the target against the Sudanese where he started and Uganda when he came off the bench.
Stand in coach, James Nandwa who was forced to bring on Baraza for Bernard Mang’oli five minutes to the break was elated with the result but rued a third injury to his team with the midfielder risking to miss the semi.
“They played according to instruction. People thought we were playing defensive but that is what I had told them to do
“I’m proud of the boys and what I’m trying to show is that we have good players in the country and we need to motivate them,” Nandwa asserted.
“We have three injuries and if Kevin and Were return, we will see what happens since Zanzibar are a good team,” he added as he confirmed that Kevin Ochieng and Paul Were who were expelled from the squad over indiscipline last week would be welcomed back to the side after being pardoned.
For his opposite number, Kinnah Phiri, the loss would not be the end of his tenure in charge of the team despite reports from Malawi indicating he had the match to salvage his job.
“We had bad luck indeed since we dominated the game, we had more possession but unfortunately, if you do not have any luck you lose. They capitalised on a deflection but I have no complaints to make.
“We will still meet the Kenyans in Malawi and from here e are going to prepare for the World Cup. It was a good run for my boys because I brought many young players and for them to play four games, that is a satisfying job,” he added.
Kenya got off to the brighter start with their re-shaped forward line of Edwin Lavatsa and pacy midfielder forcing the Malawian rearguard to desperately scramble away balls in their box.
Stars bossed possession, until close to the end of the half when Mangoli and Jockins Atudo fell injured.
Nandwa brought on Baraza as the sides went to the break tied at 0-0 with Malawi coming alive shortly before with their midfield lynchpin James Kamwendo firing just wide from range as the Stars re-organisation opened up the centre of the park.
The recovered Atudo had the last chance of the half when he fired his free kick straight to Malawi keeper Charles Swini when Salim was brought down at the edge of the box.
At the start of the second, Kenya with Humphrey Mieno commanding the midfield, pegged the Flames back and after the Sofapaka player forced a corner, the ball was headed out to Juma who shot at goal.
That is when Baraza poached the goal that embarrassed Swini who was a rock at the Malawi net for the ultimate difference.
With eight minutes left to play, striker Chikuepo Musowoya almost forced penalties when he rose the highest to send a near post header just flashing wide of Duncan Ochieng’s goal.
Nandwa then gifted Patillah Omoto his Harambee Stars debut for the fading Salim as his team held on for the last four.
STARS FIRST XI- Duncan Ochieng, Anthony Kimani (C), Jockins Atudo, David Owino, Abdallah Juma, David Ochieng, Bernard Mangoli (Mike Baraza), Humphrey Mieno, Clifton Miheso (Anthony ‘Muki’ Kimani), Rama Salim (Patillah Omoto), Edwin Lavatsa.
FLAMES FIRST XI- Charles Swini, Steve Changoma, Moses Chavula (C), Foster Namwera, John Lanjesi, Ndaziona Chatsalira, Miciam Mhone, Joseph Kamwendo, Chimango Kayira, Rodrick Gonani, Chiukwepo Msowoya