Harambee Starlets confident of Cup of Nations qualification
After a 15-1 aggregate whitewash of South Sudan in the first qualification round, Harambee Starlets head coach Charles Okere is optimistic that his charges have shown enough quality to earn a ticket to next year’s African Women’s Cup of Nations.
Starlets beat the South Sudanese 8-0 in the first leg and 7-1 in the return fixture on Saturday to earn themselves a place in the second qualification round where they will face either Ethiopia or Uganda’s Crested Cranes.
“I am really optimistic that we can achieve something. We have seen some good performances from the players in the first two matches and now we have something to build up from. We now need to slowly build up towards the next round with more friendly matches,” he said.
“With good planning and good preparations, I believe we have a good team to compete,” he added.
In the second leg against South Sudan on Saturday, Okere changed his whole squad to give everyone an opportunity to play and also hand them a chance to build on their confidence and match fitness.
“South Sudan gave us a good challenge in the second leg especially in the first half when they really pressed us high. They forced us to work harder. I was happy to give everyone a chance to show what they can do at such a stage,” the coach added.
The South Sudanese who had been 3-0 down after 20 minutes in the first leg proved to be better and they held on till the 35th minute when Mwanahalima Adam broke the deadlock with a penalty after a handball inside the box.
Dogo, who skippered the side, doubled the lead with a minute left to halftime with a well taken low shot from inside the box after a defensive header fell kindly into her path.
In the second half, the Kenyan girls continued their dominance and they were 3-0 up three minutes after the break when Janet Bundi bundled the ball home from close range after the South Sudanese keeper spilled a freekick from Adam.
Coach Okere made changes with Jentrix Shikangwa and Neddy Atieno, chief destroyers from the first leg coming on. Shikangwa made it 4-0 in the 65th minute with a shot from the edge of the box that was too strong for the keeper.
She almost doubled her tally in the 72nd minute with a shot from the right but the keeper saved. Four minutes later though, she was on a brace with a simple tap in from inside the box feeding off Adam’s cross from the right.
South Sudan pulled one back and the joy in their first ever qualifiers goal was evident as they celebrated Amy Lisu’s brilliantly taken freekick from the right.
However, the Kenyan girls sealed the victory with another emphatic score-line, substitute Lydia Akoth scoring the sixth in the 89th minute with a brilliant low shot after playing a one-two inside the box.
Neddy who scored five in the first leg then sealed the win in the second minute of added time with a ferocious shot from the edge of the box.
Starlets will now await the winner between Ethiopia and Uganda with coach Okere saying he is pleased that the league is starting soon and the players will earn the much needed match fitness.
“We will have more time to look at more players and ensure that we have the strongest squad possible in the country. Everyone has a chance and it is now up to them to show that they want it,” said the coach.
Starlets played the Women’s Cup of Nations for the first time ever in 2016 when they beat Algeria to qualify. They were close to progressing to the 2018 showpiece but they failed in their appeal, which had earlier been accepted, after losing by a slim margin to Equatorial Guinea.
Starlets had appealed that the Equatoguineans had fielded ineligible players.
Last year, the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The second round matches will be played in February next year. If Kenya wins in the second round, then they will have booked a ticket to the final tournament set to be held in Morocco.