What you need to know:
- Kenya, who last appeared in the competition in 2016, lost 2-1 on aggregate to Botswana after settling for a 1-1 draw at home and losing 1-0 away in Gaborone on Tuesday.
- After eliminating African giants Cameroon in the first round of the qualifiers, Kenyans had high hopes the Starlets would sweep aside the Mares of Botswana and book their place in the Cup of Nations set for next year in Morocco.
As Kenyans come to terms with the failure by Harambee Starlets to qualify for the 2024 Women Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon), more questions keep coming up on whether the country bottled its best chance to make it to the biennial showpiece.
Kenya, who last appeared in the competition in 2016, lost 2-1 on aggregate to Botswana after settling for a 1-1 draw at home and losing 1-0 away in Gaborone on Tuesday.
After eliminating African giants Cameroon in the first round of the qualifiers, Kenyans had high hopes the Starlets would sweep aside the Mares of Botswana and book their place in the Cup of Nations set for next year in Morocco.
Kenya went into the showdown against Botswana ranked position 147 in the world, while the Southern Africans were two places below.
The loss to Botswana, coming on the back of another humiliating 6-2 aggregate loss to Cameroon for the Rising Starlets in the 2024 Fifa Under-20 World Cup qualifier last month, has left Kenyans fuming with many calling for the resignation of the entire technical bench.
Both national teams are handled by the same technical bench led by head coach Beldine Odemba.
Most analysts believe the tie was lost in the first leg in Nairobi when Starlets failed to take advantage of the home support to put Botswana to the sword.
Botswana's Keitumtse Dithebe opened the scoring on 38 minutes before Marjolene Nekesa, who has three goals in four matches in the European Champions League this season, levelled for Kenya on the stroke of half-time from the spot.
Kenya had several chances to kill the game in Nairobi, including a last-minute penalty from Violet Nanjala that was saved by goalkeeper Maitumelo Bosija.
Cynthia Shilwatso took the responsibility to take the penalty Kenya were awarded in the second leg in Gaborone on Tuesday, which was yet again saved by Bosija. Kenya would have taken the lead in the tie had Shilwatso converted. Kenya were then punished on 63 minutes after a defensive error.
But did the senior players in the team run away from responsibility when their experience was needed?
Where were the senior players in the team when Nekesa and Shilwastso were bestowed with the enormous task of taking the penalties under pressure?
Kenya did not score from open play through the two rounds of the qualifiers.
Shilwatso scored Kenya's goal that levelled the tie in the first round against Cameroon from a free-kick, while the only goal against Botswana was a penalty.
Was the absence of key attackers, Jentrix Shikwangwa, Esse Akida and Tereza Engesha part of the problem?
Did Odemba and her technical bench study their opponents beforehand? Kenya's substitutes across the two legs were ineffective, with little impact on the scoreline.
Does Odemba fully enjoy the backing of the dressing room, or is the technical bench a divided house?
Nation Sport understands that the departure of Engesha from camp under unclear circumstances hours before the first leg match against Botswana in Nairobi left the Starlets squad divided.
Why was skipper Dorcas Shikobe in the stands in the first leg and then brought straight back to the starting line up in Gaborone?
On Tuesday, goalkeeper Lilian Awuor replaced Annedy Kundu and Phoebe Oketch was benched in favour Shikobe.
Sharyl Angachi came on for Lorna Nyarinda, and Janet Moraa Bundi replaced Nekesa, who ended sitting on the bench for the entire match in Gaborone.
Odemba had told the press after the first leg draw in Nairobi that she only had the full squad in training for only one session. Did this contribute to the exit?
Did the Football Kenya Federation and the Ministry of Sports also contribute to this failure by failing to ensure Kenya played high profile friendly matches before the qualifiers?
The men's national football team, Harambee Stars, has played several high profile friendly matches this year - against World Cup hosts Qatar, Russia among others.
Starlets only played one training against, wait for it, Highway Secondary School before the Botswana clash.
Kenya's neighbours Tanzania successfully qualified for Wafcon after defeating Togo 3-2 on aggregate and had last month knocked Botswana out of the 2024 Paris Olympics women football qualifiers.
Kenya was set to play Albania in April this year in Tirana in an international friendly under former tactician Godfrey Oduor, but the match was called-off over logistical challenges.
Of the 11 players who started for the Southern Africans, only four play professional football outside Botswana, while Kenya had only two local-based players in the starting lineup – Angachi and Moraa.
Defending champions South Africa, Botswana, Algeria, Ghana, DR Congo, Tunisia, Senegal, Zambia, Tanzania, Mali and Nigeria have now joined hosts Morocco for next year's tournament as Kenya goes back to the proverbial drawing board for the umpteenth time.
Will we get it right next time?