Ninety-seven minutes. That’s how long Kenyans waited for that memorable goal against Burundi in the first 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup semifinal yesterday in Kisumu.
The mood was right and the stage set for the semi at Moi Stadium. The pain of missed chances in the entire 96 minutes was fittingly washed away as Whyvonne Isuza scored an astonishing extra-time goal that guided Kenya into Sunday’s final.
A big smile on the face of Harambee Stars coach Paul Put and celebrations that rocked the hosts’ technical bench after the final whistle summarised the relief of the entire nation.
Stars will now meet the winner of today’s second semifinal between champions Uganda and Zanzibar.
“It was a difficult match from the beginning but we managed to overcome in the end,” said Isuza. “I am delighted to have scored the winning goal.”
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Fans could not hide their feelings. Their favourite team was an obvious pick; hosts, Harambee Stars. From the first whistle, it was cheers with every complete pass or marvellous control.
It was not an easy ride for Stars, though, as the Burundians kept their hosts on their toes. The first half produced few clear-cut chances, with Kenya surviving a scare late in the session.
Burundi created a couple of dangerous moves with former Sofapaka striker Fiston Abdoul, Laudit Mavugo, and Shaban Hussein proving a handful for the Kenyan defenders.
Both teams began the match cautiously but it is the hosts who had the first sight on the goal through Ovellah Ochieng’s cross from the right in the fourth minute.
Burundi responded almost immediately, with Hussein’s effort flying over the bar. Wesley Onguso then shot directly at the Swallows goalkeeper, Jonathan Nahimana, before Hussein, who was constant trouble to Stars’ backline, slalomed his way past his markers, only to be disposed of by Jockins Atudo in the box.
Kenya’s goalkeeper, Patrick Matasi, then pulled off a brilliant double save in the 10th minute, first to deny Shassir Nahimana before stopping Pierre Kwizera as the tempo of the game increased.
Burundi could have taken the lead in the 15th minute when Mavugo made a good run on the right before delivering a fine cross in the area, only for Hussein’s superb header to hit the woodwork. You could have heard a pin drop. Fans' mouths were agape, others bit their lips, and the fainthearted closed their eyes; close shave.
Abdoul then played a neat one-two exchange with Nahimana but Atudo made a quick interception to avert the danger.
In the 66th minute, Abdoul saw his free kick blocked, before Ochieng’s feeble shot on the other end was easily picked up by the Burundian goalkeeper.
Kenya earned a free kick in the 20th minute, but Onguso’s attempt was cleared. In the second half, Kenya suffered a blow when captain Musa Mohammed and Vincent Oburu limped off, injured.
Duncan Otieno replaced Mohammed in the 75th minute before Samuel Onyango came in for Oburu in the opening minutes of extra time.
The two changes came after Kepha Aswani replaced George Odhiambo.