90 minutes stand between Junior Starlets and World Cup spot

Kenya's Velma Awuor (left) in action against Burundi.[FKF]

“We are 90 minutes away from making history!”

That was the message Junior Starlets head coach Mildred Cheche delivered after Kenya hammered Burundi 3-0.

No Kenyan team has ever made it to the World Cup. However, that may change this weekend as Junior Starlets are on the cusp of making history, with just one match standing between them and a place in the 2024 Fifa U17 Women’s World Cup.

The commanding victory against Burundi in their first leg qualifier match, played on Sunday at Abebe Bikila Stadium in Ethiopia, has positioned the Starlets tantalisingly close to a landmark achievement for Kenyan football.

Goals from Lorna Faith, Marion Serenge, and Susan Akoth were enough to give Kenya a substantial lead heading into the second leg.

The team's performance was a masterclass in precision and teamwork, with each goal highlighting the individual skill and collective harmony of the Junior Starlets.

Faith opened the scoring early, with Serenge and Akoth adding to the tally to secure a decisive win.

This triumph means Kenya needs only a draw in the return leg, scheduled for Sunday at Police Sacco Stadium in Nairobi, to make history.

No Kenyan football team, male or female, has ever qualified for a World Cup event, making this weekend's match potentially transformative for the nation’s sporting history.

Cheche, the tactician behind the Junior Starlets' impressive campaign, is optimistic, but remains grounded ahead of the crucial fixture.

"Our girls have shown immense talent and determination. We have a significant advantage, but we cannot afford to be complacent. The job is not finished yet," said Cheche.

The tactician has also issued a rallying call to all Kenyans, urging them to come out in large numbers to support the team.

"This is a historic moment for our country. I urge all Kenyans to fill the stadium and cheer our girls on. Their support can make a huge difference. Let's come together and celebrate this incredible journey," she said.

The path to this momentous occasion has been unique for Kenya. Initially, the Junior Starlets received a bye in the first round of the qualifiers. They were set to face DRC Congo in the second round, but Congo's withdrawal gave Kenya a direct passage to the third round, where they faced Burundi.

Burundi themselves had a straightforward route, receiving a bye in the first round before defeating Botswana 4-1 on aggregate to set up the clash with Kenya.

The second leg in Nairobi is expected to be a high-stakes encounter. Burundi, reeling from their first-leg defeat, will be desperate to overturn the deficit. However, with the Kenyan side buoyed by their impressive away victory and the home advantage, the odds are firmly in their favour.

A win or draw on Sunday would not only earn Kenya a spot in the 2024 FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in the Dominican Republic this October but also serve as an inspiration for future generations of Kenyan footballers.

It would showcase the potential of women's football in Kenya and highlight the progress being made at the grassroots level.

The potential qualification is seen as a breakthrough moment, reflecting years of investment in youth development and women's football by various stakeholders in Kenyan sports.

The Junior Starlets' success would bring attention to the talent and potential that exists within the country, potentially sparking increased interest and investment in the sport.

As the nation counts down to the decisive match, excitement and anticipation are palpable. The Junior Starlets stand on the brink of history, ready to carve their names into the annals of Kenyan sport.

With the support of their country behind them, they have the chance to achieve what no other Kenyan football team has – a place on the world stage.

This weekend, all eyes will be on Police Sacco Stadium. The Junior Starlets have 90 minutes to cement their legacy and inspire a nation.

By AFP 41 mins ago
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