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Starlets beat Swazis to book Zimbabwe in COSAFA semi

Harambee Starlets players celebrate one of their goals in the match against Mauritius. PHOTO/COSAFA

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 18- Mercy Achieng’s sublime 89th minute goal handed Kenya’s Harambee Starlets a 1-0 win over Swaziland to book a date with hosts Zimbabwe in the semi-final of the COSAFA Women’s Championship on Thursday.

The game was seemingly headed for a barren draws, but Achieng’ who had a goal previously overlooked ensured that Starlets finished the group stages with a 100 percent record.

“It was a good result for us to end group stage matches with nine points. It is a positive show. This was a very tactical game and Swaziland were coming at us because wanted to win. In the second half we had to go with speed and it paid off,” Starlets head coach Richard Kanyi said after the game.

Looking ahead to the Thursday semis; “Zimbabwe is a good team they are the hosts. We know it will be tough because  the fans will be behind them and it will be all about mental strength and team character.”

Swaziland had to play almost 30 minutes of the match with 10 ladies after their star player Celine Nkambule was shown a straight red for a high boot on Pauline Musungu.

Juliet Andibo of Kenya challenged by Phumzile Dlamini of Swaziland during the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship football match between Kenya and Swaziland at Barbourfields Stadium, Bulawayo on 18 September 2017 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Starlets had enjoyed good support from the home crowd who in the least wanted a draw or a Kenyan win to ensure that the hosts went through to the last four as the best loser. Had Swaziland won, then they would have progressed at the expense of the hosts.

Kenya had already assured themselves of a slot in the semis with any kind of result as they had done enough to see them at worst qualifying as the best losers.

They went into the game with no pressure and it told with head coach Richard Kanyi making eight changes to the team that won 11-0 against Mauritius on Saturday. Skipper Wendy Achieng was missing from the tie serving a one match suspension after picking two yellows in the first two games.

Swaziland was the team under pressure and they worked hard to try and open up the Kenyan defense to get in at least one goal to put them into the driving seat. However, they could not find the right combination.

Nqobile Dlamini of Swaziland challenged by Esther Nandika of Kenya during the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship football match between Kenya and Swaziland at Barbourfields Stadium, Bulawayo on 18 September 2017 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

In the 38th minute, Singa Martins was through on goal after breaking into the box, but Juliet Auma pulled a timely tackle to block the ball for a corner.

In the second half, Kenya upped the pace and six minutes in, Phoebe Awiti should have had her name on the score sheet but after being put through by Janet Bundi failed to beat Swaziland keeper Sokohlule Sibandze one on one.

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Swaziland’s efforts were handed a huge blow in the 63rd minute when Nkambule was red carded, though it looked like a harsh decision.

Keeper Sibandze, later named man-of-the match in the tie kept Swaziland in the game and in the 67th minute made another superb stop to deny Bundi’s shot from the right after being put through by Cherish Avilia.

Five minutes later, the shot stopper did well again to save one on one from Mwanahalima Adam who had just come on for Bundi, spreading her body well on the ground to block a definite goal-bound effort.

Goal scorer Achieng thought she had broken the deadlock in the 75th minute when her thunderous shot from the edge of the area came off the underside of the bar and past the line, but the ball bounced back into play and the ref waved play on.

anet Bundi of Kenya during the 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship football match between Kenya and Swaziland at Barbourfields Stadium, Bulawayo on 18 September 2017 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Three minutes later, Achieng had another opportunity after a one-two change of passes with Owiti, but her eventual shot was well collected by Sibandze. On the opposite end, Kenyan keeper Pauline Adhiambo was called into action with a superb flying save to deny Sanga.

Achieng seemed to have saved the best for last when she broke free at the edge of the box from another one-two change of passes with Carolyne Anyango and noticing the Swaziland keeper off her line chipped the ball over delightfully.

Kenya is the only team in the tournament to go through to the semis with a 100 percent record.

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