Kenya U-17 girls face baptism by fire in Fifa World Cup

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

Kenya’s Junior Starlets have been handed two-time champions North Korea, 2016 silver medallists England, and 2018 runners-up Mexico in a tough Group ‘C’ of the 2024 Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup, which will be played in the Dominican Republic from October 16 to November 3 later in the year.

The draw for the eighth edition of the 16-team tournament was done on Sunday in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Junior Starlets coach Mildred Cheche attended.

The 16 teams were placed in four groups of four teams each, and the top two from each group will proceed to the quarter-finals.

Kenya faces tough task of advancing from Group ‘C’ of the tournament, dubbed ‘Group of death.’  The group has two-time champions North Korea, 2016 silver medallists England, and 2018 runners-up Mexico.

Reacting to the draw, Junior Starlets coach Cheche said: “Most teams in our group have been in the competition before. It’s not an easy task, but we’ll plan accordingly. We aim to compete, not just to participate. While some see us as underdogs in the group, that’s not the case. We will confidently contest the championship without feeling pressure. However, our opponents will be under pressure to win their matches against us because they have been in the game for some time now.”

Reached final

North Korea, known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Korea DPR), has reached the final of the tournament three times,  and won the title twice - 2008 and 2016.

In 2010, South Korea, which is ranked 110th globally, finished fourth in the tournament, and finished second in 2012. North Korea were eliminated at the group stage in 2014, and reached the quarterfinals in 2018, and in 2022. North Korea have won the Asian Cup four times - in 2007, 2015, 2017, and most recently earlier this year.

England, coached by Natalie Henderson, achieved their best result in the tournament by finishing third in 2016 Uefa Women’s Under-17 Championship.

The team has participated in the Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup twice, finishing fourth in 2008 and reaching the quarterfinals in 2016.

England has taken part in eight editions of the Uefa Women’s Under-17 Championship tournaments, finishing third in 2016 and fourth in 2008, 2014, and in 2018.  They sit third in Fifa rankings.

Mexico finished second in the 2018 Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup held in Uruguay.

Despite a 2–1 loss to Spain in the final of the 2028 tournament, their silver medal represents the best result for any Mexico squad at a Fifa Women’s World Cup.

Mexico failed to qualify for the tournament in 2008, and exited the championship in the group stage in 2010, 2012, and in 2022. Mexico won the 2013 CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship, Which brings together teams from North, Central America and the Caribbean.

The 2020 edition of the Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup was not held due to Covid-19 pandemic.  Dominican Republic will host thois year’s tournament in Santo Domingo, and in Santiago de los Caballeros.

Junior Starlets qualified for the tournament by defeating Burundi 5-0 on aggregate in the fourth round of qualifiers. Kenya won the first leg of the match June 9 at Abebe Bikila Stadium in Addis Ababa 3-0, and won the reverse fixture 2-0 at Ulinzi Sports Complex in Nairobi on June 16, 2024.

In Sundays’s draw the Dominican Republic, reigning champions Spain, Japan and North Korea were seeded. The hosts will start their campaign in Group ‘A’ on October 16 against Ecuador in Santiago de los Caballeros. They will later play New Zealand and Nigeria also.

Reigning champions Spain will play in Group ‘B’ against USA, South Korea, and Colombia, who were runners-up in the previous edition.

Defending champions Spain are also the most successful team in the tournament, having triumphed in the last two editions held in Uruguay (2018) and India (2022).

Group ‘D’ has Japan, Poland, Brazil, and Zambia. Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Poland will compete in the tournament for the first time. Apart from Kenya, Africa will be represented in the tournament by Nigeria and Zambia.