NAIROBI, December 1- Champions Harambee Stars suffered a heart-breaking end to their Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup defence after being dumped out by Rwanda 5-3 on post-match penalties at the Addis Ababa National Stadium on Tuesday.
The absorbing tie ended in a 0-0 stalemate where Stars were guilty of spurning a bucketful of chances.
Their wretched call of duty in Ethiopia ended when young midfielder, Eric Johanna, who has excelled on his Cecafa debut, missed the crucial third penalty to give Rwanda an advantage they never relinquished in the shootout.
It was a cruel way for the tearful Johanna who has impressed after getting a run of games under Bobby Williamson, with the consoling arm of veteran Noah Abich not enough to comfort the crushed youngster after Rwanda keeper; Eric Ndayishimiye, palmed out his tame effort.
The Scot boss was adamant his side had shaded the tie and deserved victory despite the unsettling media reports from back home on the allowances issues and alleged indiscipline he admitted had affected his players.
“I thought we played well under the circumstances. I thought we were the better team over 90 minutes. If anybody was going to score, it was us but it was never to be, good luck to Rwanda, hope they win it.
“The young boy volunteered to step forward and take it and there were experienced players who fancied it but he was not sure. But he stepped forward and that will hold him in good stead in the future but (it was) disappointing,” the Stars boss rued whilst absolving Johanna from any blame for his penalty miss.
Man-of-the-match and full back, Jacques Tuyisenge, was beside himself with pleasure after starting the game with the armband before the designated skipper came on in the second period.
“To see my team in the semis makes me so delighted. I salute the Rwandese and ask them for support and with prayers and effort, we can go all the way to the final. When it came to penalties, it was down to the keeper and he helped the team,” he gushed, struggling to catch his breath in elation.
His coach, Jonathan McKinstry admitted they had the numbers to the winning lottery ticket after being pummelled by the deposed champions for most of regulation play as he hailed his young charges for finding the fortitude to prevail in the tense shootout.
“It’s a lottery, everyone says that. We have very young team and to hold their nerve was impressive and to keep a clean sheet with the power Kenya have, we are very pleased. The boys’ hard work was deserving of the result. Well done to them,” the Northern Irishman added after seeing his lads aged 18, 19 and 20 put five past Oluoch during the shootout.
Pre-match talk in the Stars camp was dominated by the nauseating dispute over allowances that prompted Sports, Culture and Arts Minister, Dr. Hassan Wario to fly to Ethiopia to diffuse the problem.
And Williamson’s side almost found themselves down after only five minutes when Yussufu Habinimana sprung free on the right and sent a delicious low ball to the Stars’ box that was met perfectly by Dominic Savio but keeper; Boniface Oluoch justified his recall by producing a smart save.
After a lean passage of play, Stars started finding their range and lethal striker, Michael Olunga came to the fore in successive minutes; first shooting wide when his forward partner, Jacob Keli, was better placed in the box in the 16th.
In the next move, Omar Bongi crossed from the left and Olunga, again with Keli lurking in space inside the box, used his hands to direct the ball goal wards and was subsequently booked for the offence.
In the 23rd, David Ouma missed connecting with a teasing ball in the area by inches before Keli spurned a guilt edged chance when he took an air shot from a Clifton Miheso low ball from the right with a tap in required for the opener.
Stars went to the break level at 0-0 when Eric Johanna daisy cutter and Olunga’s overhead kick went wide.
Rwanda once again had the brighter start to the second half with keeper Oluoch alert to another dangerous low pass from Jack Niyonzimana, smothering the ball with Savio ready to pounce before the ball was worked to the other end and Keli sent his finish skywards after being set up by Omollo inside the opening 12 minutes of the period.
Eric Ndayishimiye was forced to race out of his goal to deny Olunga before his namesake, Celestine Ndayishimiye; slammed in a tasty cross to the Stars box but defender David ‘Calabar’ Owino did enough to put off Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza who was rushing in to fire it goal wards with intent.
Oluoch then made a rash mistake, racing out and missing the ball completely from a corner and Mugiraneza gleefully accepted the gift and almost it headed in to the unguarded net in the 64th.
The Stars custodian had another rush of blood five minutes later after his short pass to his defender; David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng, inside his area came within a hair’s breadth of being intercepted by an on-rushing Rwandese attacker.
Kenya then wasted two presentable opportunities when a long Abich throw found its way to Keli who turned and shot but his effort was deflected for a corner that was brought in by the midfield veteran back to the box but Miheso sent a tame header to the Rwandese keeper.
With spot kicks looming, Williamson brought on Jesse Were for Miheso and Ali Abondo for Keli with Rwanda going first in the shootout.
Haruna Niyonzima, Jacques Tuyisenge and Djihad Dizimana all expertly sent Olouch the wrong way with Owino and Abich firing their efforts in with venom.
Then, the decisive moment arrived when Johanna stepped up and after a stuttering run, his attempt to place the ball to Ndayishimiye’s left at a height comfortable for the keeper did not fool his opponent who beat the effort out with aplomb.
Oluoch almost fashioned an immediate response when he got a strong hand to the next Rwandese spot-kick from substitute Songa but only succeeded in sending it in.
Were calmly side-footed his spot-kick in to leave Celestine Ndayishimiye with honour of sending his nation to the semi final which he duly obliged to put the final nail to Stars’ miserable title-defence.
In the earlier game, keeper Ekram Salim saved one and scored another to help his Sudan side beat neighbours Southern Sudan 5-3 one post-match penalties after the game ended 0-0 in regulation time.
Sudan will play Rwanda with Uganda taking on hosts Ethiopia to decide the 2015 Cecafa finalists.