NAIROBI, Kenya- Harambee Stars are the 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup winners after beating Zanzibar 3-2 on post-match penalties in a tense final played at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on Sunday.
Both sides settled for a 1-1 draw after regulation before the tie ended all square at 2-2 in extra time.
SportPesa Premier League (SPL) side Posta Rangers FC goalkeeper, Patrick Matasi, was the hero for Kenya when he saved three spot kicks in the shoot-out; denying Issa Haidar, Adeyum Ahmed and Mohammed Issa.
Jockins Atudo, Wesley Onguso and Samuel Onyango scored Stars but Duncan Otieno’s effort was kept out by Zanzibar keeper Mohammed Abdurahman.
Ovella Ochieng’ scored the opener in the fifth minute with a magnificent strike from a free-kick 25 meters out that gave Abdurahman no chance in the Zanzibar goal.
Khamis Musa came off the bench to restore parity with only three minutes left on the clock to send the tie to extra time.
A rare error from Abdrahman gifted substitute Masoud Juma his second goal of the tourney but there was still another twist to the evenly contested tie as Khamis capitalized on a defensive lapse from Stars skipper Musa Mohammed to equalize.
Having settled for a barren draw in their Group A match, the two sides renewed rivalry with different scripts fuelling their title ambitions.
For the hosts, reclaiming the title they last won in 2013 was the mission while the Heroes were eager to end their 22-year wait for regional glory having last emerged champions in 1995 when they beat then holders Uganda 1-0 in Kampala.
Kenya Deputy President, William Ruto and Machakos Governor, Dr. Alfred Mutua and Football Kenya Federation President, Nick Mwenda were some of the dignitaries that joined the enthusiastic home support to witness the gold medal game.
New Stars coach, Belgian Paul Put who wanted to deliver Kenya a trophy at his first time of asking saw his charges start strongly with Whyvonne Isuza winning a free-kick in a prime position after being brought down by Abdulaziz Makame.
Youngster Ochieng’ took over the set piece responsibility from SPL outfit, Kariobangi Sharks FC teammate, Patilla Omotto and he did not disappoint.
He produced a spectacular effort that flew over the wall into the top left corner beyond the despairing dive of Abdurahman.
In the 36th minute, the lively Ochieng’ broke free on the right and whipped a low cross into the area that Abdurahman failed to gather cleanly with Kepha Aswani lurking.
However the custodian recovered quickly to hold the ball on his goal line and avert the danger.
At the other end, Suleiman Kassim took full advantage of a miscued clearance from Jockins Atudo to fashion Zanzibar’s first notable chance.
He raced down the inside left and picked out Ibrahim Hamad with a well weighted delivery but the headed finish was saved by an alert Matasi.
Hemed Suleiman’s charges returned a rejuvenated side after the break, piling pressure on Stars and their efforts almost paid in the 76th when Mohammed Issa found Hamad with a clever cutback but his effort was heroically blocked by Atudo.
With the tie destined to end 1-0 in the hosts’ favour, Haji Mwinyi pounced on a poor clearance on the left and galloped towards the byline before finding Khamis with a low cross.
Much to the disappointment of the home fans who were sensing glory, the dimunitive midfielder calmly slotted the ball past a hapless Matasi to silence the fully packed stadium.
Undeterred, Stars started brightly in extra time with Isuza, who was the hero of the semifinal, rattling the crossbar with an improvised shot after connecting a Wesley Onguso long throw in.
Moments later, Abdurahman fumbled with a goal kick to hand Juma a chance to shoot Kenya into the lead.
The 2017 SPL top scorer showed the Zanzibar defenders a clean pair of heels before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net as the crowd went into orbit.
However, the joy was short lived as Zanzibar drew level three minutes later.
Musa was left with the simple task of tapping into an unguarded net for his brace net after Stars skipper; Mohammed made a hush of his clearance from Mohammed Issa’s dipping cross from the left.
That goal sent the tie to the dreaded shoot out where Matasi showed his brilliance to save three penalties despite being beaten by Feisal Salum and Mudathir Yahya.
At last, at long last, glory was finally delivered for success starved Stars and the celebrations could begin.