MACHAKOS, Kenya, Apr 4- Harambee Starlets kicked-off their 2018 African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) qualification campaign with a slim 1-0 win over a much improved Uganda in the first round, first leg qualifier in Machakos on Wednesday.
Right-back Lilian Adera scored the all important goal in the 53rd minute with a sumptuous strike from almost 40 yards to give David Ouma’s side a slim edge ahead of the return leg to be staged at the Lugogo Stadium in Kampala on Sunday.
Starlets are looking to qualify for their second consecutive AWCON and a win over the two legs against Uganda will book them a slot in the final qualification round with a match against Equatorial Guinea in June.
It wasn’t the best of halves from Starlets, who on the last meeting with the Crested Cranes put four past them. Throughout the opening 45 minutes, they couldn’t master a shot on target, save for three efforts that were far from troubling the keeper.
The front three of Esse Akida, Mwanahalima ‘Dogo’ Adam and Neddy Atieno, supported by Under-20 sensation Cynthia Shilwatso had struggled to open up the Ugandan backline, especially with their tact of playing in crosses from width.
The Ugandans showed a much improved game from the last time they met the Kenyans and their first attempt at goal came in the 18th minute when skipper Hassunah Nassifa attempted a shot from range which however went behind.
On the half hour mark, Kenya had their first effort at goal when Akida collected the ball from 25 yards but her effort went over.
Three minutes later, Starlets were forced to clear the ball off the line when Asia Nakibuka collected the ball from the right and shot at goal with the Kenyan defense caught off guard.
Towards the end of the half, Kenya had another half chance when Adam collected the ball on the left, drove in, but her shot went wide.
In the second half, Ouma started off with changes, bringing on Corazon Aquino for Shilwatso in a bid to build up the forward line.
Starlets broke the deadlock eight minutes into the second half with Adera’s strike from range, having noticed the Ugandan keeper off his line and going for the shot.
It was a goal that injected some spirit and belief for Starlets and they should have gone ahead on the hour mark with two great chances.
First, Adam controlled the ball beautifully on the right before going past his marker with some deft footwork, breaking into the box and shooting low with the keeper palming away the effort. Aquino picked up the rebound from 12 yards out but her low effort went inches wide.
The hosts had picked some rhythm after the goal and Ouma made two more changes to boost the attack, Sheryl Andiba coming on for Cherish Avillia while Mercy Achieng was brought on for Akida.
The home side continued pushing and in the 73rd minute Dorcas Shikobe came close with a header off an Adam cross, but the keeper saved at her near post.
Starlets kept pushing, but the final cutting edge always let them down and they will now be looking for an improved performance in the return tie on Sunday.