VALENCIA, Spain, July 31- Spedag forward Esse Mbeyu Akida scored a hatrick as Harambee Starlets began their campaign at the COTIF invitational football tournament in Spain on a roll, beating reigning Portuguese champions Benfica 3-0 in their opening match.
The pint-sized forward with 13 goals in six Premier League matches was in red hot form as Starlets showed maturity especially building on towards their debut in the African Cup of Nations in November.
Akida who had promised to translate her league form to the national team had started in a front three that also had deputy skipper Mary Kinuthia and debutant Mary Achieng who started in the absence of the injured Neddy Atieno.
First choice custodian Samantha Akinyi also sat out of the match as she was yet to recover and in her place Vivian Akinyi started, marking her competitive debut in national colors.
Akida gave her team the lead on the half hour mark, shocking the two-time Portuguese champions who had played second fiddle in most of the opening exchanges.
Benfica were awakened from their sleep with the early goal and they started attacking in impulse, but Kenya managed to hold on to the lead until half time.
The second half was even better with Akida showing her imperious form with two more goals, completing a hatrick and a huge morale boosting win for head coach David Ouma and his team.
They will now shift their attention to their second match of the round robin tournament and they will be playing against home side Espanyol.
Other teams in the tournament are Elche, Real Betis and the Venezuelan national team.
Speaking to Capital Sport from Valencia, Spain, team manager Doreen Nabwire lauded the girls for the performance, saying they had to overcome high temperatures and nervousness to wade into an opening day win.
“The weather was an obstacle to both teams as it was 42 degrees when we started. However, it affected them the most since I think for us we are kind of used to extreme heat. They appeared exhausted and so it worked to our advantage,” Nabwire said.
She adds; “We were a bit tensed at the beginning. They appeared stronger and more experienced. Plus they are this year’s Portuguese League and Cup champions.They were tactically and technically good. But as you know most of our players are equally technically good. We were able to contain them the first half, got a few chances but we’re unable to utilize. In the second half we played better.”
The former Kenyan international is optimistic the team will play better in the second match, though she concedes it will not be a walk in the park against a better Espanyol side.
“The win is a huge motivation. Tomorrow Espanyol will play Benfica so we have a chance to go watch them as we prepare to face them,” Nabwire adds.