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Malawi down Starlets in Olympic Qualifier

Harambee Starlets players line up before their friendly match against Ethiopia in Machakos. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 28 – Kenya’s Harambee Starlets are left with a tough task in the second leg of the Tokyo 2020 second round qualifier after losing 3-2 to Malawi’s She Flames in the first leg played in Blantyre on Wednesday evening.

Starlets were unlucky, hitting the woodwork three times and missing a sitter with a gaping goalmouth as the Malawians made the most of their chances, China based Tabitha Chawinga scoring twice.

The home side broke the deadlock via a 13th minute Madina Nguluwe freekick before Kenya responded in similar fashion with a long ranger by Cynthia Shilwatso.

However, Tabitha partnered with her sister Temwa to conjure two goals in two minutes late in the first half to give the Malawians a 3-1 advantage.

Some calamitous defending from Malawi saw Starlets bridge the gap to 3-2 when keeper Samir Amidu’s clearance bounced off Elizabeth Wambui from close range and into the net.

Kenya will now need to win the return leg in the least by one unanswered goal to progress to the third round where a tie against either Ghana or Gabon awaits.

The home side broke the deadlock after 13 minutes when Nguluwe curled in a freekick that dipped into the top left corner. Starlets conceded just four minutes after Dorcas Shikobe’s header off a Mwanahalima Adam had come off the crossbar.

Tabitha, her younger sister Temwa and Nguluwe were Malawi’s biggest threat and they were a constant threat with their dribbling and pace.

Malawi had a chance in the 32nd minute when Tabitha dribbled her way into the box before setting up her sister, but the latter’s shot was saved by the Kenyan keeper.

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Kenyan players take a water break during their Olympic qualifier against Malawi in Blantyre on August 28, 2019. PHOTO/Malawi FA

On the turn, Starlets were denied by the upright again when Shilwatso’s effort from distance kissed the crossbar and Mwanahalima Adam saw her effort with a header off the rebound go inches wide.

But, Starlets came back into the tie in the 35th minute when Shilwatso’s long range freekick dipped beyond the Malawi keeper.

The joy of equalizing could however last only two minutes as Tabitha made it 2-1 for Malawi with a simple tap in after Temwa had dribbled into the box.

The home side was 3-1 up two minutes later when the referee pointed to the spot after Shikobe had been adjudged to have pulled Temwa’s shirt inside the box. Tabitha stepped up and scored what was a controversial penalty.

Starlets head coach David Ouma in anger was said to have hit the dressing room door and could not return to the touchline immediately and was reportedly taken to the hospital for treatment, though he came back midway through the second half.

Starlets kept the pressure in the second half and Janet Bundi missed a sitter 10 minutes after the restart when the keeper spilled a header from Adam, but Bundi could not bang the ball into an empty net.

The curse of the post stood in Kenya’s way again in the 71st minute when Adam was set up by Corazone Aquino, but her low effort came against the upright.

Ten minutes later though, Starlets scored a hugely otivating goal when the keeper’s clearance bounced on Wambui with both Bundi and Adam bouncing on top of it to ensure the ball was fully in the net.

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