Where it went all wrong for Harambee Starlets

Harambee Starlets players in a training session at Kasarani Annex. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Kenya's national women's football team, Harambee Starlets, saw their dreams of participating in the Women's Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) shattered for the second time after a 2-1 aggregate score defeat to Botswana on Tuesday.

Both teams had a chance to secure a coveted spot in the continental games set to be held in Morocco, but it was Botswana who emerged victorious, denying Harambee Starlets the opportunity to replicate their 2016 heroics.

Back in 2016, Harambee Starlets made history by qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time. Their journey was marked by determination and resilience, culminating in a qualification on away-goal rule following a 3-3 aggregate result over Algeria.

The first leg of the match ended in a 1-1 draw, and a 2-2 draw in Algiers secured them a place in the tournament.

Hopes were high for a repeat performance this year, with head coach Beldine Odemba guiding the side to success.

However, the team faltered in the final round of WAFCON qualifiers against Botswana. The first leg played in Nairobi ended in a 1-1 draw, leaving everything to play for in the decisive second leg at the Botswana National Stadium in Gaborone.

One of the key moments that proved pivotal in Kenya's WAFCON dream was their failure to capitalise on opportunities, especially in the crucial moments of the matches.

In the first leg playing on home turf, Kenya missed a golden chance to take the lead as Violet Nanjala's penalty was saved by Botswana goalkeeper and captain Sedilame Bosija. The draw in Nairobi set stage for a tense encounter in Gaborone.

On Tuesday, Bosija emerged as Botswana's hero once again, saving Cynthia Shilwatso's penalty and effectively dashing Kenya's hopes. The inability to convert penalties, coupled with missed chances, ultimately cost Harambee Starlets their place in the WAFCON tournament.

Looking ahead, it is essential for the national women's football team to regroup and focus on the future.

The analysis of Kenya's WAFCON dream unraveling points to self-inflicted wounds, with missed chances proving to be the Achilles' heel.

The inability to capitalise on key moments, including penalty opportunities, ultimately proved costly for Harambee Starlets. The resilience that defined their historic 2016 journey seemed elusive this time, leaving players and fans grappling with the bitter taste of unfulfilled aspirations.

Looking ahead as Harambee Starlets regroup and reassess their path forward, there are crucial steps that must be taken into account, even as the team assembled for WAFCON qualification in 2026.

The national women's football team must focus on strengthening various aspects of their game, both on and off the field. This includes investing in youth development programs to nurture new talent, enhancing the team's tactical acumen, fostering a culture of teamwork and unity, providing robust support systems for players, and securing consistent sponsorship to sustain the team's growth.

While the current setback is undoubtedly disheartening, Harambee Starlets have the talent and potential to bounce back stronger.

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