Harambee Starlets earned their ticket to the next stage of the 2024 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (WAFCON) qualifiers in dramatic fashion, triumphing over Cameroon in a penalty shootout at Nyayo National Stadium on a Tuesday afternoon.
Despite delivering a commanding performance in the second leg, securing a 1-0 victory against the Central African team, Kenya still had to rely on penalty kicks to progress to the second round due to an overall 1-1 aggregate draw.
The match saw some tactical adjustments from the Kenyan side, with Enez Mango stepping into the starting lineup in place of Wincate Kaari, Jentrix Shikangwa taking the place of Cynthia Shilawatso, and Phoebe Aketch replacing Juliet Andipo.
The early stages of the game were marked by intense competition, with Cameroon focusing on ball possession and building from the back. Nevertheless, after the initial ten minutes, the Harambee Starlets began utilizing their pace upfront to their advantage. Just when it seemed Kenya might have a breakthrough opportunity as they advanced towards goal, Bihina Michaely exhibited her goalkeeping prowess, defusing the threat.
Clear-cut scoring opportunities remained scarce throughout the game, as Kenya applied high-pressure defense and prevented Cameroon from establishing control, especially in the first half. The absence of midfield maestro Charlene Meyong in Cameroon’s lineup hindered their transition from defense to attack during this period.
As a result, Ajara Njoya found herself isolated in the front, prompting Ngo Beleck to drop deeper to retrieve the ball, causing frustration for the Indomitable Lionesses. Despite their efforts, Cameroon could not find the back of the net, leading to a halftime deadlock.
The second half ushered in a more fluid contest as Harambee Starlets intensified their offensive efforts. Kenya had an early chance right after the break when Jenrix Shikangwa failed to secure a cross, but Phoebe Awiti’s subsequent shot lacked the necessary power and was cleared off the line by a Cameroon defender.
As the game reached the hour mark, Harambee Starlets maintained control of the match, yet they struggled to breach Cameroon’s solid defense. Kenya did pose a threat from a free-kick, causing Bihina some concern as the ball narrowly sailed over the bar following a well-struck effort by Mwanahalima Adam from the edge of the box.
While the on-field action failed to produce a breakthrough for either side, the fans in the stands enjoyed the spectacle. To inject fresh energy and seek a breakthrough, Odemba introduced their perennial game-changers, Elizabeth Wambui and Cynthia Shilwatso.
This substitution brought more pace to Harambee Starlets’ attack, and it finally paid off in the 75th minute when substitute Shilwatso’s shot from the left found the net, breaking the deadlock with a score of 1-0.
Harambee Starlets continued to apply pressure and came close to a second goal in the 87th minute, but Bihina once again made an outstanding save to deny them.
In the closing stages of the game, Jean Baptiste Bisseck’s side struggled to create scoring opportunities but came close to finding the net as Ngo Beleck’s powerful strike sailed just over the bar.
Starting Lineups: Harambee Starlets: Annedy Kundu, Enez Mango, Esse Akida, Jentrix Shikangwa, Mwanahalima Adam, Phoebe Awiti, Ruth Ingosi, Sherly Angachi, Teressa Engesha, Vivian Corazone, Vivian Nasaka
Cameroon: Bihina, Meffometou Tchengang, Mayi, Ngock, Ngock Yango, Ngo Mbelek, Nchout Ajara, Ambam, Aboudi