History as Harambee Starlets edge Cameroon to storm WAFCON final qualifiers

Harambee Starlets players celebrate their win against Cameroon during the 2024 Women's Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at the Nyayo Stadium on September 26, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Harambee Starlets rewrote history on Tuesday after defeating Cameroon’s Indomitable Lionesses 4-3 in post-match penalties and qualifying for the second round of the 2024 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.

South Korea-based attacker Cynthia Shilwatso came off the bench to score in the 75th minute to hand Kenya a historic 1-0 win over Cameroon in the second leg of the first-round match played at Nyayo Stadium.

The goal saw Starlets tie the scores at 1-1 aggregate after having lost 1-0 away at Douala in Cameroon last week on Friday.

Harambee Starlets players celebrate their win against Cameroon during the 2024 Women's Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers at the Nyayo Stadium on September 26, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Heading into the match, Kenya needed a win of any sort to stay alive in the fixture which they did as the 1-1 aggregate draw sent the game into penalties immediately after full time.

Starlest captain Ruth Ingosi began Kenya’s spot-kicks on the wrong foot after seeing her attempt saved but Cynthia Shilwatso, Violet Nanjala, Mwanalima Adam, and Sheryl Andiba ensured fans at Nyayo would not go home disappointed.

This is after Charlene Menene and Claudine Falone failed to convert their spot kicks for Cameroon. Naomi Eto, Achta Toko, and Ajara Nchout scored the Indomitable Lionesses three penalties.

Harambee Starlets Tereza Engesha (right) and Cameroon Easther Kith battle for the ball possession during the 2024 Women's Africa Cup of Nations first round qualifiers at the Nyayo Stadium on September 26, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Starlets began the match positively with good control of the ball, especially in the defense marshaled by captain fantastic Ruth Ingosi who plays in the Tanzanian Premier League with Simba Queens.

In what would turn out to be a match played in the midfield rather than opposite ends, Kenya got the only clear chance of the half when Cameroon goalkeeper Michaely Bihina miss timed a long ball clearance that provided an opportunity for Tereza Engesha to score a tap-in.

However, the South Korea-based attacker was not quick enough as she saw a golden opportunity slither inches away from the right post.

While Cameroon played long balls with attempts to find their powerful striker Michaela Abam, Starlets were composed and building from the back as Vivian Corazone, Mwanahalima Adam, Sheryl Angachi and Enez Mango exchanged easy one-two passes that exited the thousands of fans.

The only thing lacking from the match was a goal to cap Kenya’s confident first-half performance which ended in a 0-0 draw.

Cameroon players react after they lost to Kenya Harambee Starlets during the 2024 Women's Africa Cup of Nations first-round qualifiers at the Nyayo Stadium on September 26, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

In the final half, Cynthia Shilwatso would be introduced in place of PAOK forward Esse Akida to inject pace into the Starlets forward line.

However, it was the Indomitable Lionesses who almost scored first after a long free kick which could not be collected by Annedy Kundu after a collision with her defender Phoebe Owiti saw Ambam attempt a shot at goal but was blocked by captain Ingosi.

Lack of concentration from both sides saw both defenses commit simple mistakes as Kenya and Cameroon lost easy balls.

Elizabeth Wambui and Vivian Nasaka would send two back-to-back dangerous crosses into the box after the hour mark, crosses that Bihina held onto firmly as Kenya intensified their attacks.

Cameroon got another free kick 30 yards from goal after a handball by Phoebe Owiti but the resultant attempt swayed wide in the 70th minute.

Ketsia Ngaira and Violet Nanjala would be introduced for Vivian Corazone and Jentrix Shikangwa in an attempt by Starlets head coach Beldine Odemba.

Cynthia Shilwatso celebrates after scoring for Harambee Starlets as Kenya defeated Cameroon 1-0 on Tuesday.[X,Harambee Starlets]

In the 75th minute, Shilwatso would repay the faith bestowed to her by Odemba after giving Kenya the lead through a long-range free-kick that Bihina mishandled and crossed the goal line.

Four minutes later, Kenya should have doubled their lead but Shilwatso hit the post from a 0ne on one encounter with Bihina who jumped on the rebounded.

As the crowd got louder with Kenya’s numerous attacks, a rare defensive lapse by captain Ingosi gifted Nchout Ajara with a golden opportunity to equalize the scores but she also could not find the net despite a one-on-one encounter with Starlets shot-stopper Kundu.

A series of attacks by both teams followed as Kenya and Cameroon who were tied at 1-1 aggregate each searched for the winner to avoid a potential penalty matchup.

The last 10 minutes saw Cameroon ask more questions as Kenya restored to defensive play, which allowed the visitors the freedom to run but neither could find the winner as the match headed for penalties.

Penalties

Cameroon-Naomi Eto in, Charlene Menene out, Achta Toko in, Claudine Falone out, Ajara Nchout in,

Kenya-Ruth Ingosi out, Cynthia Shilwatso in, Violet Nanjala in, Mwanalima Adam in, Sheryl Andiba

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