Starlets bow out of Awcon 2016 after crushing Mali loss
Harambee Starlets crashed out of the 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations (Awcon) on Wednesday night when they slipped to a 3-1 defeat to Mali in Limbe, Cameroon.
After a promising start in which Mary Kinuthia sent a shot fizzling just wide of the right post in the fourth minute, Kenya’s defensive frailties cost the debutants a chance to challenge for semi final qualification after Group B rivals Nigeria and Ghana drew 1-1 earlier.
Bassira Toube was the hero for the Malians who were thumped 6-0 by champions Nigeria in their opener with a second half brace after Sebe Coulibaly put her side in the lead.
Cheris Avilia gave Starlets brief hope in the 79th when she fired in a rocket to pull one back that proved to be a consolation after being set through on goal by the lively Esse Mbeyu Akida.
Keeper Samantha Achieng was at fault in the 38th minute when she palmed a long range free-kick from Coulibaly into her own net on a night where her unsure handling was a concern for Starlets every time the ball got into the danger area.
Toube capitalised on another defensive lapse to put Mali further ahead shortly after half time following the unusual decision by Starlets head coach, David Ouma to make a triple substitution at the start of the second stanza.
Starlets’ backline was once again the architects of their own downfall when Kenya made a hush of clearing their lines.
And from another breakaway, captain Wendy Achieng hauled down the pacey forward to concede the penalty that was dispatched past the Starlets keeper who could have done better to save the timidly taken effort.
That put the game beyond the Kenyans who slumped to a second successive 3-1 defeat after losing to Ghana in their opener only that this time, there was no referring controversy to pepper their defensive mistakes.
The result left Nigeria leading the group on goal difference on four points, with Ghana second on the same tally, one above Mali with Starlets rock bottom with none as they bowed out at the first hurdle on their maiden appearance at the biennial continental showpiece.
With both teams needing victory to keep their hopes of featuring in the last four alive, the pedigree of Mali who have featured at this competition six time told over the enterprising novices from Kenya who ultimately plotted their own downfall.
Barely seconds from kick-off, Mali poured forward and almost got instant reward when Rita Diarra fired just over from the left with Achieng ruthlessly exposed.
Starlets hit back, pressing the West Africans back with Akida who scored the opener against Ghana in their opening match causing the Malian rearguard all sorts of problems.
It took two defenders to stop her from finding and end product and two minutes later, Kinuthia fired inches off target before a shot from distance almost caught out the Mali keeper.
On the other end, Achieng who was culpable for two of Ghana’s goal was looking shaky between the sticks especially from long balls and after living dangerously every time Mali worked the ball to the box, she was made to pay seven minutes from half time.
There seemed to be no danger when Coulibaly lined-up to take a free-kick more than 3o-yards from goal but after her effort sailed clear of the wall, Achieng hesitated to make the dive and only succeeded in helping the ball into the net.
Shortly after the break, another poor clearance invited Toube to make headlines and she took her finish with aplomb, finding space past retreating Starlets defenders to loop the ball over the advancing Kenyan keeper.
At that point, Akida had come close to pull her side back twice, her first effort to find a teammate on the far post forcing the Mali keeper to a scrambled save before another delivery whizzed just across goal before being cleared from danger in panic.
The final nail came 11 minutes to full time when Starlets needlessly lost the ball in midfield and it was worked to Toube on the right and as she cut inside the box to shoot, Wendy who was retreating hauled her down leaving the referee little choice than to award a spot kick, the second Kenya have conceded in the tournament.
Up stepped the forward to claim her double but in truth, Achieng should have stopped her feeble effort as it squirmed under her and ended almost apologetically to the net.
There was still time for the Starlets to get due return to their endeavour that has endeared them to neutrals in Cameroon as Akida found the rampaging Avilia who shot high and true for the consolation.
Mali held on a late barrage in the final ten plus a fair amount of stoppage time to resurrect their hopes as Kenya prepare to take on the might of wounded Nigeria in their final group fixture.
The defending champions looking for a win to book an early ticket to the semi-finals had a great start and they got into the lead in the 19th when Cynthia Adobia turned Asisat Oshoala’s shot into her own net.
Ghana however equalized from the spot three minutes from the break through skipper Elizabeth Addo, who was fouled by Halimat Ayinde in the vital area.
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