At last, a clear pathway to Kenya’s World Cup debut!

Junior Starlets

Kenyan midfielder Joan Ogola tussles for the ball Ethiopia's Mahelet Mitiku during the 2024 Fifa Under-17 Women's World Cup qualifier at Ulinzi Sports Complex in Nairobi on May 19, 2024.

Photo credit: Courtesy of FKF

What you need to know:

  • Year in, year out, they just cannot reach the point end of the Champions League race.
  • Junior Starlets dispatched Ethiopia 3-0 on aggregate in the third round of the qualifiers.

Truth be told, our Kenyan women have achieved more internationally than their male counterparts have, if you compare performances of the two categories against investment and attention.

Sample these. No Kenyan male club has ever made it to the group stage of the CAF Champions League since the new format was introduced in 1997.

Football pundits – depending on which persuasion they adhere to, talk about how Gor Mahia is an immutable social movement and AFC Leopards is bigger than Kenyan football, but the two giants of the game in the country and their local contemporaries are paper tigers in Africa.

Year in, year out, they just cannot reach the point end of the Champions League race.

Bravo to our Kenyan girls who have already tasted action in the women's version of the CAF Champions League.

Vihiga Queens

Brave Vihiga Queens won the Cecafa club competition to become the region’s representative in the tournament’s inaugural edition held in Egypt in 2021and involving eight clubs.

The Kenyan side were just a point away from qualifying for the semi-finals from their four-team group.

Despite the meagre resources given to Harambee Starlets vis-à-vis Harambee Stars, the former outfit battled to qualify for the 2016 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon). This was the first time for Kenyan women to qualify for Africa’s top competition. They were the lowest ranked country in the competition at 132 and it told as they bowed out without winning a single match.

But lessons were learnt and Harambee Starlets moved up the rankings and were well on course to qualify for the 2022 Wafcon, drawn against familiar foes and neighbours Uganda in the last round of qualifiers for the continental showpiece, only for FKF to summarily withdraw the team from the competition.

You had to feel for this Kenyan squad, a powerhouse in the region, who had put in all the hard work and were on the brink of a second appearance in Africa.

Women folk

The talent of our women folk is indeed there to be seen. How else would you explain the many who are pursuing professional careers outside Kenya.

At least 15 are playing in Tanzania, and I will explain the significance in a moment.

They include Monicah Sedah and Violet Mukosha (Fountain Gates Princess), Corazone Aquino, Elizabeth Wambui, Caroline Rufaa, Jentrix Shikangwa and Ruth Ingotsi (Simba Queens)

The others are Wincate Kaari, Janet Moraa Bundi and Airin Madalina (Yanga Princess), and Saumu Baya, Liz Khisa, Fanis Kwamboka, Eunice Kwangu, and Lorine Awuor (Bunda Queens).

Now, Tanzanian clubs have featured in the last two CAF Women’s Champions League competitions – a Kenyan heavy Simba Queens, who finished fourth in 2022 and JKT Queens last year.

However, it is Europe, the mecca of women’s football, that one appreciates the power and potential of Kenyan girls.

Four Kenyan players are in line to feature in the Uefa Women’s Champions League next season after their respective clubs won their national leagues this season.

They need no introduction: Internationals, forward Esse Akida (AC PAOK, Greece), goalkeeper Lillian Awuor and defender Enez Mango (Farul Constanta, Romania) and striker Marjolene Nekesa (Slavia Praha, Czech Republic)

World Cup

Other notable Kenyans making fame and fortune across the oceans are Cynthia Shilwatso (WFC Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine), Christine Nafula (Kayserspor Kadin Futbol Takimi, Turkey) and Tereza Engesha (Hyundai Steel Red Angels, South Korea).

And now Kenya is on the brink of qualifying for their first ever football World Cup.

Kenya Under-17 women’s team aka Junior Starlets are just one round away booking a historic first ticket to the 16-nation Fifa Women’s U-17 World Cup slated for October 16 to November 3 in the Dominican Republic.

The Junior Starlets dispatched their Ethiopian counterparts 3-0 on aggregate in their two-leg, third round encounter a few days ago.

After a 0-0 draw in Addis Ababa on May 10 some Ethiopians, perhaps still euphoric over their 3-0 aggregate elimination of fancied South Africa in the second round, even had the audacity to say beating Kenya in Nairobi was not a problem. That their main worry was “emerging giants” Burundi in the final round of qualifying.

Starlets had other ideas at Ulinzi Sports Complex on Sunday with three unanswered goals that were of such sublime quality they wiped out the understandable naivety the girls sometimes exhibited.

The first, a towering header by Elizabeth Ochaka from a corner, powerfully directed home with panache; the second, a venomous effort into the net following a driving, mazy run by Velma Awuor; and the third, a sumptuously struck pile-driver from miles away by 15-year-old Butere Girls student Lornah Faith that nestled on the top left corner. Ah, the beautiful game right there!

Junior Starlets are well poised to do what our male teams have failed to do in over half a century of trying.

Imagine Kenya appearing in a football World Cup for the first time in history!

Heady thoughts, and the onus is on all Kenyans to give these beautiful girls all the support they need to take us to this elusive football Canaan.