History Beckons for Kenya As U17 Junior Starlets Eye First Ever World Cup Spot

History Beckons for Kenya As U17 Junior Starlets Eye First Ever World Cup Spot

Martin Moses
June 11, 2024 at 4:49 PM
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  • Kenya Women's U17 national side are on the verge of making World Cup history when they play Burundi this weekend
  • No Kenyan football team of any age category has ever qualified for a World Cup tournament before in the country's history
  • A draw of any kind would be enough to see the side christened the Junior Starlets through after a 3-0 win in the first leg

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When Elizabeth Ochaka leads out the Kenya U17 Women's football team on Sunday, June 16, at the Ulinzi Sports Complex, only one thing will be on her mind—World Cup qualification.

For a country deeply embedded and in love with football, Kenya has never seen any of its team, male or female, in any age category, qualify for a World Cup competition.

That all could change on June 16, 2024.

Kenya Women's U17 side, Junior Starlets, U17 Women's World Cup, Velma Awuor
Velma Awuor in action for Kenya Women's U17 side against Burundi on June 9, 2024, at Abebe Bikila Stadium in Ethiopia. Credit, FKF Communications.
Source: UGC

History beckons

World Cup football has never been this close - you can almost breathe it in. Or, as the Sports Cabinet Secretary, Ababu Namwamba, put it, we have one foot in the World Cup.

Junior Starlets are 90 minutes away from sealing a historic place at the 2024 Women's U17 World Cup. The competition will take place in the Dominican Republic from October 16 to November 3.

U17 side set to make history

Kevin Teya, a sports journalist and fan, has followed the girls' journey and can't wait for it to become a reality.

"When you look at our teams, we usually only qualify for AFCON once in a while, but we never make any significant progress. This is a huge deal because, one, we have never been to a World Cup before, and secondly, only three teams in Africa will have that chance this year."

The gallant girls will face Burundi in the return leg on home soil, carrying a healthy 3-0 lead. On paper, a three-goal advantage looks insurmountable, but head coach Mildred Cheche will be wary of the old adage, 'It's not over until it's over'.

Junior Starlets World Cup journey

Be that as it may, no one can take away from them the impressive strides they have made in recent times. It was only three years ago when the team was banned from the U17 World Cup qualifiers ( the final tournament was held in India) after FIFA imposed an indefinite ban on Kenyan football due to government interference.

The team has been on the mend, with the government making concerted efforts to ensure its development and long-term success. They got a bye in the first round after the Democratic Republic of Congo withdrew before beating Ethiopia in the penultimate round.

"This is a well-built team." chips in Teya, "For a team to go away and win comfortably 3-0, it just speaks volumes of the good work they are putting in. They also beat a good team that had won 24-0 on aggregate in their previous round."

And on Sunday, it will be time to tip it over the edge.

More support is needed to grow sports

The team's progress has also shone a positive light on how adequate support from the relevant authorities can be a catalyst for success. The side has been in camp for over one month, supported by the government through the Ministry of Sports and the Kenya Academy of Sports, as they play the qualification matches.

"In my history of following and reporting on the national teams, I have never seen a better-supported team like this. In terms of preparations, it has been 100%. We are reaping the fruits of that preparation."

What next after World Cup qualification?

But Teya, like any other fan, wants more if Cheche's charges see this through and get that ticket. There will be clamour for the girls to be supported even more as they seek to provide competition in the Dominican Republic rather than just add to the numbers.

It is not unheard of for a debutant to come in, dominate everyone and win the competition. We might be jumping the gun, but from the qualification matches so far, the Junior Starlets have more to offer.

"I think we should not get over-excited after qualifying. I'll insist that they get the same support they have gotten in the qualifying campaign."

Teya is also wary of teams that tend to ring one too many changes for tournaments, throwing away the formula that worked for them previously.

"I hope they don't mess up the team by dropping the players who did the job during the qualifiers."

The return leg is slated to kick off at 3pm EAT. The government has waived entry charges to encourage fans to turn up in their numbers to support the team.

This is destiny unfolding right before us.

Kenya holds Ivory Coast

In a separate report, Kenya men's senior side, Harambee Stars, held Ivory Coast to a barren draw on June 11.

Sports Brief reported that the match was part of the race to qualify for the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in North America.

It was an impressive result for Kenya, who managed to frustrate the African champions for long periods of the game.

Authors
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Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)