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Wanzala the hero as Junior Stars scrape through into Cecafa final

 Kenya U18 goalkeeper Ibrahim Wanzala in action during their Cecafa U18 Championships semifinal match against Tanzania at Jomo Kenyatta Stadium in Kisumu on December 5, 2023. [Kakamega Homeboyz FC]

Ibrahim Wanzala! That’s the name.

The Kakamega Homeboyz young goalkeeper saved two penalties as Kenya’s Junior Stars went through to the finals of the 2023 Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (Cecafa) Under-18 championships at a fully-packed Jomo Kenyatta Stadium, on Tuesday. 

The Salim Babu-coached side knocked out a stubborn Tanzania 4-3 in post-match penalties yesterday to set up a date with arch-rivals Uganda Junior Cranes in the finals set for Friday.

The two sides played out to a 0-0 draw in the opening 90 minutes and the additional 30 minutes extra time in the match where Kenya dominated but failed to find the back of the net.

Led by captain Amos Wanjala, the Junior Stars converted four penalties. Collins Onguo, Wanjala, Humphrey Aroko and Syphas Owuor scored their penalties while Stanley Omondi’s effort was saved by Tanzania goalkeeper Anthony Mpemba.

Wanzala’s two penalty saves on the other hand handed Kenya the ticket to face off against Uganda.

 Kenya's AMos Wanjala in action against Tanzania.[FKF]

Speaking after the win, Junior Stars assistant coach Anthony Akhulia said they are happy with the win and praised the boys for their resilience and belief the whole match.

“It was a very entertaining game. The boys gave their all today. Despite starting the match rather very slowly, they picked up the pace in the second half and we were unlucky to get a goal before extra time.

“This match shows another side of the Junior Stars, that we can play high-intensity matches and grind wins through penalties. It is a very good game, especially heading into the finals,” said Akhulia,

Junior Stars started off the match slowly building it through Stanley Omondi, Aldrine Kibet, and Joseph Khisia.

Several wing plays through fullback Barron Ochieng and winger Tyron Kariuki failed to bore any fruit as the Tanzanian defense stood tall clearing any crosses into changes the box.

 Kenya's Humphrey Aroko in action against Tanzania.[FKF]

Unlucky in the first half, Salim Babu made some changes introducing Kisumu Day’s Dancun Omalla, Collins Ongou, Syphas Owuor, Joseph Onyango and Humphrey Aroko. Their impact was felt as Kenya dominated the closing 20 minutes of the final half.

Despite numerous attacks by Omalla, Ongou, and Aroko, Tanzania remained compact in addition to applying time-wasting tactics deployed by their goalkeeper as the game ended 0-0 at 90 minutes.

Extra time was more of the same, balanced attacks from both sides and missed chances that sent the game to penalties.

Meanwhile, Uganda knocked out Rwanda 1-0 in the early kickoff match.

Uganda will play Kenya at Jomo Kenyatta Stadium on Friday. The final will come after a third-place playoff match between Tanzania and Rwanda.

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