All isn’t lost for Starlets who missed Africa berth
Harambee Starlets may have failed to qualify for the Africa Women’s Championship after losing to Rwanda’s She-Amavubi on the away goal rule, but the national team learnt lessons for the future.
Confidence was high in the camp, and it was hoped that the girls would overturn a first leg 1-0 loss in Kigali after thorough training and working on weak areas.
The return leg started well at Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos, with Starlets pinning Rwanda in their half. The visitors appeared to be taken aback by the ferocity of their opponents and made a number of forced mistakes as Starlets pressed on in search of a goal.
After a sustained raid in Rwanda’s territory, Lady luck smiled on the Kenyans in the 16th minute. Jacky Ogal was awarded a free-kick after being brought down just outside the box.
She curled the ball to the top, left corner of the net leaving Rwandese goalkeeper Judith Igambi with no chance.
The goal motivated Starlets to create more chances but they went begging after Kenyan strikers failed to convert, as Rwanda lingered dangerously.
The wasted chances came back to haunt Kenya. Rwanda were not demoralised by the goal but stepped up their attack and in the 41st minute, their efforts bore fruit through Gladia Uwamalirwa.
Pressure was back on Starlets as they needed two more goals for them to advance to the next stage.
In the second half, Kenya set camp in their opponents’ half in search of the elusive goals. They drove hard at the Rwandese but the latter’s’ defence stood tall as they repelled every attack that came their way. Igambi made a double save that denied Ogal and later talismanic striker Nedy Atieno goals.
Kenya finally made a breakthrough with a goal through Atieno in the 71st minute. The home team failed to capitalise on numerical strength after Rwanda’s Tabitha Uwamano was sent off for arguing with match officials.
In the end, it was heartbreak for the Starlets as their Rwandese counterparts celebrated the result in spite of losing the match.
Though Starlets failed to qualify, their performance was outstanding. Their coach Justus Okiring was proud of his girls.
“You watched the game that we played. It was a controlled and tactical game from start to finish, but I guess luck was not on our side. We will live to fight another day,” said Okiring.
He, however, chose to stay positive saying it was just a matter time before Starlets made their maiden Cup of Nations.
Kenya has never qualified for the previous eight Africa Women Championships over the years and will sit out yet again after coming so close.
Okiring is of the opinion that with proper preparation and more support, the team would qualify for the next championship where Starlets would compete with top teams such as Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun and South Africa.
“We have a lot of talented girls right from primary school and we need to nurture them so as to build a team for the future,” he said.
Okiring said Starlets required more friendly matches and better training strategies.
“Talent is not our problem. We need to sustain and motivate our players for them to compete. For them to catch up with stars on the continent, they need more exposure so that we can achieve our targetis not our problem.
“We need to motivate and sustain our players for them to compete. With more exposure, we shall achieve our target,” Okiring added.
Atieno and Ogal were impressive. The two played a crucial role and are pivotal for Kenya’s future success.
Atieno, who plays for Makolanders, landed a sports scholarship at Bethel University in the United States last year and will jet out later in the year to pursue her dream. She said that the women’s team is talented but needs to play more games to develop.
“It is hard to get a position in the first 11 because of stiff competition. This is a good team and we need support just like our male counterparts,” said Atieno.
Appealed for support
She urged the Government to support them and to give Starlets equal treatment just like the men who get more attention and recognition.
Ogal said the team was unlucky this time round, but because they came close, their prospects of qualifying for the next Africa Championship were high.
“We were confident of going through, but I guess we are not there yet. We shall work harder for us to become as good as Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon,” she said.
Atieno and Ogal faulted the plan to move the game to Machakos from Nairobi, saying it locked out fans who wanted to watch the game.
The Rwandese coach Grace Nyinawumuntu was full of praise for the Starlets and said they were ripe for the continental stage.
“Your team is strong and very talented. I believe it is ready for the big stage. I think Rwanda were fortunate to qualify,” she said.
Starlets’ key players Cheris Avilla, Nelly Sawe, Veronica Nekesa, Anita Adongo, Caroline Chepkoech, Rebecca Akinyi, Dorcas Shikobe and Esse Mbeyu, part of who were in the starting 11, missed the qualifying matches because of lack of passports.
One wonders how senior players were ruled ineligible because of lacking passports yet it is a basic requirement at all Fifa-recognised international fixtures.
The coach was forced to change the team and his tactics at the last minute in Machakos after the same happened during the first leg in Rwanda.
This raised concerns over poor handling of Starlets, yet the team has shown a lot of promise. Football chiefs should investigate the matter.