Flashback 2016: Starlets coming out of the shadows

Harambee Starlets in celebratory mood after returning home following their 2016 Cecafa Women Championship final defeat ...
Harambee Starlets in celebratory mood after returning home following their 2016 Cecafa Women Championship final defeat in Uganda on September 21,2016. Photo/Oliver Ananda/www.sportpicha.com

It was a historic year for Kenyan football as the women’s team booked their first ever CAF Africa Women’s Championships finals ticket, and becoming the first Kenyan team to make the continental senior finals since the men’s side made the 2004 AFCON in Tunisia.

Their triumph was a significantly huge lift as the Starlets banished age-old struggles resulting from the gross mismanagement that has rocked Football Federation of Kenya (FKF) for as long to give the nation a deserved international football cheer.

The Starlets had long lived under the shadows of the national volleyball team, Malkia Strikers, whose prowess has elevated the country’s name in continental and global map up until April when Cheris Avilia struck that beauty that sealed Kenya’s qualification to the Women Africa Cup of Nations (AWCON) finals held last month in Cameroon.

Under the Nick Mwendwa’s administration, the management of the game has transitioned for the better and perhaps had a direct impact to the results posted by the Starlets less than a year after he took over from Sam Nyamweya.

En route their 1-0 Olympic qualifier win over Botswana in May last year, there were reports the Starlets had spent in the cold at Nairobi’s Safaricom Stadium Kasarani for two days – sleeping on improvised bedding in the men’s changing rooms.

As the officials would put it at the time, this was only a convenient move to ensure less time is wasted on change-overs during the team’s double training sessions; an obvious cover up of the FKF’s shortcomings in the provision of better accommodation.

Nyamweya was nonetheless swift to share in their glory following the nerve wracking 1-1 draw against Algeria in Nairobi ensured the Starlets sailed through.

“It is humbling and a moment of great pride that this team was assembled during my term in office and we assembled the team, including the players and technical bench that have made history in Kenyan football,” he wrote on his Facebook account.

Whether his claims were true or not, Mwendwa certainly brought with him a positive vibe that set off the Starlets on a fairy tale journey otherwise curtailed by an underwhelming performance in Cameroon.

As Avilia would later reveal to Citizen Digital in her post-match interview, a pep talk from Mwendwa had inspired their remarkable feat.

“He made a very big statement before the match – impossible is nothing.”

Crushing defeats to Ghana, Mali and Nigeria pulled the high-flying Starlets back to earth but more importantly it showed just how much the debutants had – with little preparation and a poor league – had punched above their weight to find themselves amongst continental greats.

Regionally, the Starlets were virtually unstoppable as they went on a magnificent winning streak of four matches and scoring 22 goals on the road, effectively earning ‘favourites’ tag at the inaugural Cecafa Women Championships held in Uganda.

They however ended up second best as they fell 2-1 by Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Queens in a hotly contested final played at the FUFA Njeru Technical Centre, Jinja.

“They did not play better than us, we did our best but they spoilt everything by the two early goals. I can’t even tell what they did better than us, but the referee clearly denied us. I have never seen a referee rescinding his decision to call for a foul because the player has gone ahead and scored.

“Kenyans should not be heartbroken by the loss, it will inspire us more ahead of Awcon,” Starlets star striker Esse Mbeyu Akida said of their disappointment.

Credit should be given to the FKF for ensuring the Starlets enjoyed a steady stream of friendly matches including exposure trips to Europe that surely enhanced the Starlets’ adaptability to different styles of play and expanded their understanding of the game.

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Story By Geoffrey Mwamburi
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