Did Harambee Starlets technical bench shoot itself in the foot?

Harambee starlets players react during their 2024 Women's Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Botswana at Nyayo National Stadium on November 29, 2023.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The draw now leaves Starlets with a mountain to climb in the return leg.
  • Kenya must beat Botswana by any margin or force a scoring draw higher than 1-1 to advance. A 0-0 draw or a win for Botswana will favour the Sourthen Africans.

Harambee Starlets head coach Beldine Odemba has her work cut out ahead of their 2024 Women Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) qualification return leg match away to The Mares of Botswana next week.

The high-stakes match will be played on Tuesday at Gaborone National Stadium in Gaborone, Botswana. The aggregate winner of the tie will qualify for the Cup of Nations.

Despite playing in front of a crowd of over 15,000 fans in the first leg at Nyayo National Stadium, Nairobi on Wednesday, Starlets settled for a 1-1 draw against Botswana.

The draw now leaves Starlets with a mountain to climb in the return leg.

Kenya must beat Botswana by any margin or force a scoring draw higher than 1-1 to advance. A 0-0 draw or a win for Botswana will favour the Sourthen Africans.

Odemba's charges could also sneak through to the Wafcon on penalties should they settle for a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes in Gaborone and win the post-match lotteries like they did in the previous round against Cameroon.

But Starlets have themselves to blame for failing to capitalise on their home advantage on Wednesday. The Kenyans missed a host of chances, including a last-gasp penalty, to put Botswana to the sword in Nairobi.

Botswana's Keitumtse Dithebe opened the scoring on 38 minutes before Marjolene Nekesa levelled matters for Kenya from the spot at the stroke of half-time.

Odemba knows the task ahead and believes her misfiring attackers will sparkle in the return leg.

"In our attacking line, I don't think we lack anything. I still believe in the same team because we have the character, the players are confident and we have goalscorers. As a team, we will now train together well. Eleven professional players arrived before the match and we could not get enough time to train with us," said Odemba.

In the first half, Starlets were slow in transition from defence to attack, while Botwasana defended well.

Kenya's defence line consisting of Phoebe Oketch, Vivian Nasaka, captain Ruth Ingotsi and Enez Mango remained untroubled for large spells in the match as the visitors sat back and relied on fast-breaks when the opportunity presented itself.

Botswana captain and goalkeeper Maitumelo Bosija denied Kenya what would have been the winner in added time after saving Violet Nanjala's poorly struck penalty.

Centre referee Shahand Saad from Egypt also failed to control the game as the visitors resorted to time-wasting, only for the match officials to add five minutes after 90 minutes. The crowd responded angrily, but it is the Southern Africans who left the pitch happy.

Analysts also faulted Odemba's subsitutions in the match, with most pundits in agreement that she set up the team for failure.

Janet Moraa Bundi and Sheryl Angachi came on at the start of the second half for Nekesa and winger Elizabeth Wambui. Wambui and Nekesa were involved in the build-up for Kenya's goal, with the later converting the spot kick.

Nine minutes later, Lorna Nyabuto was rested for Nanjala.

Odemba also subbed Mwanahalima Adam on 70 minutes for Joy Kinglady, a substitution that was vehemently opposed by the Nyayo crowd. Kinglady was making her debut and barely made an impact, leaving fans questioning whether the technical bench had mentally prepared her for the moment.

Despite the changes, Starlets remained blunt in the final third, although Angachi stabilised the shaky midfield.

"We had asked our players to perform at their best in the first 45 minutes, particularly in certain areas. While everyone was prepared and gave their all, we have identified areas for improvement. However, we still have the second match to play, and we remain optimistic. We believe that with hard work and dedication, we can turn the game around on Tuesday," Odemba said in the post-match presser.

"It is common for players run away from the responsibility in order to avoid blame if they miss. This was the case when Nanjala stepped up to take the penalty. However, penalty taking is a 50/50 game, and there is always a chance of both scoring and missing. It takes courage to step up to the spot, and sometimes the outcome is not in the player's favour. It is important to remember that missed penalties are a part of the game," Odemba came to Nanjala's defence.

Starlets camp has not been short of drama, as Nation Sport understands that experienced forward Tereza Engesha left camp a few hours to the match under unclear circumstances.

The last time Kenya qualified for Wafcon was in 2016, after they drew both at home (1-1) and away (2-2) against Algeria.

Will history repeat itself in Gaborone?