Hard work begins for Kenya U-17 girls after Fifa World Cup qualification

Junior Starlets

Junior Starlets players after their victory over Burundi in a Fifa U-17 Women World Cup qualifiers on June 16, 2024 at Ulinzi Sports Complex.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Hard work now begins for Kenya’s Junior Starlets following the team’s historic qualification for the 2024 Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup that will take place later in the year in the Dominican Republic from October 16 to November 3.

Junior Starlets will attend a three-week training camp in Spain, play a series of friendly matches locally, and generally seal loopholes seen during the team’s qualification for the global championship.

On Sunday, Junior Starlets secured their spot in the championships by defeating Burundi 2-0 in the return leg match of the fourth round of qualifiers at Ulinzi Sports Complex in Nairobi, with goals from strikers Marion Serenge (16th minute) and Valarie Nekesa (20th minute).

The team, coached by Mildred Cheche, had beaten Burundi 3-0 in the first-leg encounter at Abebe Bikila Stadium in Ethiopia on June 8.

The players left camp on Monday morning to resume their studies, and are expected back in camp in September.

In the 23-member squad, 20 players are secondary school students, and three of them, including captain Elizabeth Ochaka, completed their secondary school studies in 2023.

During a dinner hosted in their honour on Sunday night in Nairobi, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) president, Nick Mwendwa said the players will travel to Mirabel, Spain, in September for three weeks of intense training.

Worked closely with team

“FKF has collaborated closely with the Ministry of Sports and Education to ensure an enabling environment for the players. Our focus now shifts to preparing for the tournament. After intensive training in Spain, the team will proceed directly to the Dominican Republic, and we will offer them our full support,” Mwendwa said.

“In 2016, we marked a significant milestone by participating in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations for the first time. Women’s football in Kenya has shown great growth over the years. Although we missed out on the last senior women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand due to suspension, our team is on the right trajectory and well-equipped for success,” added Mwendwa.

During the ceremony, Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba who was the guest of honour, presented the players and coaches with a dummy cheque for Sh10 million.

Each member of the squad consisting of 23 players and 10 members of the technical bench will receive Sh300,000.

Ample support

“This success underscores the fact that the investment made through the Talanta Hela programme is yielding results. We are committed to providing you with ample support as you prepare for the World Cup,” Namwamba noted.

Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup will this year feature 16 teams before being expanded to 24 teams from 2028. Other than Kenya, Africa will be represented at the Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup by Nigeria and Zambia. Starlets become the second East African team to qualify for the tournament after Tanzania in 2022.

The Under-17 tournament will become an annual event involving 24 nations from 2025, and Morocco will host the event from 2025 to 2029.

The teams will be divided into four groups of four teams each, with the top two from each group progressing to the quarter-finals, followed by the semi-finals, a third-place play-off match, and the final. The date of the draw remains unannounced, but it could be done this month.

Defending champions Spain is the most successful country in the tournament, having triumphed in the last two editions held in Uruguay (2018) and India (2022). Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Poland will make their debut at the championship.