Junior Starlets, the pride of Kenyan football

Junior Starlets celebrate after beating Burundi 2-0 during the second leg of the fourth round of the Fifa U17 Women’s World Cup qualifier against Burundi. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

In a feat that has sent ripples through Kenya’s sporting landscape, the Junior Starlets made history on Sunday by becoming the first Kenyan football team to qualify for the World Cup.

The young heroines triumphed with an emphatic 5-0 aggregate victory over Burundi, securing their place in the 2024 Fifa U17 Women’s World Cup set for the Dominican Republic this October.

The path to glory was paved with determination and skill. The Starlets set the tone with a resounding 3-0 victory in the first leg held at Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila Stadium, thanks to goals from Lorna Faith, Marion Serenge, and Susan Akoth.

They then sealed the historic qualification with a 2-0 win in Nairobi, where Serenge and Valerie Nekesa from Madira Girls High School shone brightly.

This qualification marks a watershed moment not only for the team, but for Kenyan football as a whole. Not even the Harambee Stars, the nation’s most celebrated team, have achieved such a milestone. The Junior Starlets’ success brings a new hope and prestige to women’s football in Kenya.

Mildred Cheche Coach Junior Starlets focus against Burundi during the second leg of the fourth round of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup qualifier against Burundi to be held at Ulinzi Complex. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Head coach Mildred Cheche, speaking after the landmark feat, encapsulated the pride and promise of this achievement.

“This is a monumental moment for us,” Cheche said. “The dedication and hard work of these girls has paid off. They have shown that Kenya has a future in women’s football.”

Kenya now joins the ranks of seasoned teams like Nigeria and Zambia, alongside global heavyweights such as Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, Japan, Korea DPR, Korea Republic, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, and USA.

This year’s U17 Women’s World Cup will be the last to feature 16 teams before expanding to 24 in the next edition.

The teams will be divided into four groups of four, with the top two in each group advancing to the quarter-finals, followed by the semi-finals, a third-place match, and the final.

The Junior Starlets’ qualification for the World Cup inspires young girls across the country to pursue their football dreams, proving that with hard work and dedication, they too can reach the world stage.

Junior Starlets' Captain Elizabeth Ochaka lead her team after beating Burundi 2-0 during the second leg of the fourth round of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup qualifier against Burundi to be held at Ulinzi Complex. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Coach Cheche is optimistic yet realistic about the challenges ahead.

“Our journey is just beginning,” she said. “To compete at the global stage, we need continuous support and investment in these young talents. We must focus on intensive training, exposure to high-level competition, and the overall development of our players.”

Cheche believes in the bright future of Kenyan women’s football.

“We have shown what is possible with determination and support. This team is a beacon of hope and a sign that we can achieve much more. The world is watching, and we are ready to make our mark.”

Kenya received a bye in the first round before qualifying for the third round again without kicking a ball after DR Congo pulled out in the last minute.

A 3-0 win over Ethiopia in the third round pitted Kenya against Burundi whom the Junior Starlets demolished to bag the coveted ticket.

Junior Starlets' Lindey Atieno (left) and Joan Ogola challenge Burundi's Josephine Majura during the second leg of the fourth round of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup qualifier against Burundi to be held at Ulinzi Complex. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The composition of the Junior Starlets squad highlights the depth of talent in Kenya.

The Junior Starlets’ squad is predominantly made up of school students. Players hail from schools such as Madira Girls, Kobala Secondary School, Wiyeta Secondary School, Shiraha Starlets, Nyakach Girls High School and Sunflower Junior High School.

Goalkeepers Ephy Awuor, Scovia Awuor, and Velma Auma have been stalwarts between the sticks, demonstrating agility and composure under pressure.

Junior Starlets's Marion Serenge  celebrate her goal against Burundi during the second leg of the fourth round of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup qualifier against Burundi to be held at Ulinzi Complex. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]]

The defensive lineup, including talents like Elizebeth Ochaka and Claire Meris, has been rock-solid, neutralising opposition attacks with tactical awareness and physical prowess.

In midfield, players such as Velma Awuor, Brenda Awuor, and Halima Imbachi have controlled the tempo of the game with excellent ball control, vision, and distribution.

Up front, forwards Valerie Nekesa, Marion Serenge, and Quinter Adhiambo have been relentless in their pursuit of goals, showcasing speed, skill, and finishing ability.

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