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SPORTS

Vihiga Queens, Harambee Starlets the only shining light in dull women’s football

WOMEN IN SPORTS By Washington Onyango | December 22nd 2021 | 5 min read
Vihiga Queens celebrating after beating Ethopia's CBE FC 2-1 during the Inaugural edition of the CAF Women Champions League CECAFA Qualifiers final match at The Moi International Sports Center Kasarani. Sept 9, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

We all forget about some things. It could be leaving doors ajar, or failing to fulfill some resolutions. For football’s governing bodies, it might be the physical and mental welfare of its players. For me, it’s the Kenyan women’s football.

Many fans hardly pay a lot of attention to the local Kenya Women Premier League as they do to the Football Kenya Federation Premier League, which is dominated by Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.

On the international stage, it is the same story with national men’s team Harambee Stars led by Michael Olunga, which continue to garner more attention compared with Harambee Starlets.

Nonetheless, 2021 was a year women football in Kenya shone brighter than their men’s counterparts, who failed to impress on the international stage, both for club and national team.

It was all joy to see the lowly favoured Vihiga Queens dominate the East African regional club’s championship and represent the region in the continental showpiece in North Africa.

Vihiga’s Jentrix Shikangwa and the Cecafa Women Club Championships are inextricably linked in the minds of all.

The 20-year-old striker was the star of the Cecafa championships after helping her club Vihiga Queens qualify for the inaugural CAF Women Champions League. 

The three-time Kenya Women Premier League champions beat Ethiopia’s CBE 2-1 in the final to win the inaugural Cecafa Women Club Championships at Kasarani on September 9.

In the final, Vihiga Queens avenged the 4-2 loss they suffered against the Ethiopians in the group stage.

Shikangwa put the hosts ahead and although Vihiga’s Vivian Makokha scored an own goal for parity, Shikangwa later converted a last-minute penalty to help coach Charles Okere’s side win maiden regional trophy.  

After beginning their Group B with a 2-4 loss to CBE, Vihiga thrashed South Sudan’s Yei Joint Stars 11-0 in their second game, then routed New Generation of Zanzibar 8-0.

In the semi-finals, the Kenyan ladies beat Tanzania’s Simba Queens 2-1 with Shikangwa again proving to be the difference by netting a late winner after Simba’s Flavian Mavete had cancelled out Maureen Achieng’s opener for the home team.

Shikangwa finished the championship with eight goals.

Vihiga Queens proceeded to represent Kenya at the inaugural CAF Women’s Champions League in Cairo last month.

The East African representatives lost 2-0 to eventual winners Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa but recovered to beat Morocco’s ASFAR Women 2-0. Vihiga then lost 4-0 to River Angels of Nigeria to finish third in Group B.

Although they exited the competition at the group stage, the former Kenya Women Premier League champions gained invaluable experience from the tournament.

Internationally, national women’s side Harambee Starlets gave Kenyans a reason to smile after they won all their matches played in the year.

In fact, Starlets are on course to qualify for the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations.

The national women’s football team will renew their rivalry with neighbours Uganda Crested Cranes when they clash in the second round of the 2022 AWCON qualifiers in February next year.

Kenya advanced to the second round after hammering South Sudan 15-1 on aggregate.

On the other hand, Uganda sailed through after beating Ethiopia 2-1 on post-match penalties after the two teams tied 2-2 on aggregate at the end of the second leg played at Bahir Dar International Stadium in Ethiopia.

Kenya will host the first leg of the contest, which is scheduled for February 14, before travelling across the border on February 23 to play Uganda next year.

In the 2016 AWCON tournament played in Cameroon., Kenya were knocked out in the group stage after losing to Ghana (3-1), Mali (3-1) and Nigeria (4-0).

Kenya missed the 2018 edition after falling to Equatorial Guinea in the qualifying matches. 

The 2022 AWCON finals will take place in Morocco between July 2 to July 23 and will double up as the African qualifiers for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Harambee Starlets' celebrating their win against South Sudan in the Africa Women Cup of Nations Qualifiers match at the Nyayo National Stadium, Oct 20, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Locally, Thika Queens ended Vihiga Queens’ three-year dominance after winning the 2021 Kenyan Women’s Premier League title on June 27.

Thika edged out Gaspo 3-0 in the play-offs finals at Nakuru Agricultural Show grounds to win their second title which they last won in 2016 when they defeated Vihiga Queens 2-0.

Thika Queens striker Mwanahalima ‘Dogo’ Adam was named the Best Player of the season. She also bagged the Golden Boot having finished as top scorer with 21 goals. 

The Women’s Premier League, which had not been played since 2010, only returned in 2014 and has been dominated by Vihiga Queens.

Six players from Thika Queens also bagged different awards in the inaugural Kenya Footballers Welfare Association (Kefwa) Women’s Premier League awards held earlier this month.

Goalkeeper Monica Karambu, defenders Wincate Kaari Juliet Andibo and Dorcus Shikobe, midfielder Lydia Waganda and attacker Mwanahalima Dogo were all awarded as Best Players in their respective positions.

Also, Ulinzi Starlets defeated Thika Queens 10-9 on post-match penalties to win the inaugural Women’s Super-Cup early last month.

On the down side, the national women’s Under-20 team, Rising Starlets, bowed out of the Fifa U20 World Cup qualifiers after losing 10-3 on aggregate to neighbours Uganda in October.

Despite being under the tutelage of the inform Harambee Starlets coach Charles Okere, Rising Starlets lost 7-2 in Nairobi before going down 3-1 in Kampala to exit the competition in the second round stage.

Meanwhile, the 2021-2022 Kenya Women Premier League kicked off on December 18 in a new season set to be played under a new format.

Unlike last season where the league was played in zonal format, this season will have a unified league of 12 teams. Last season, WPL was divided in Zone “A” and “B”.

The 2021 Football Kenya Federation Women's Premier League champions Thika Queens.[Courtesy-FKF]

Both zones had eight teams each with the bottom three being relegated to FKF Division One.

The women’s national league had earlier been scheduled to start on November 13 but was postponed following the disbandment of Football Kenya Federation.

Bunyore Starlets were promoted from FKF Division One Zone “B” while Kangemi Ladies earned promotion from Zone “A”.

Mathare United Women, Makolanders, Kibera Girls Soccer Academy SEP Girls, Eldoret Falcons and Oserian Ladies were relegated.

All eyes will be on Thika Queens and Vihiga Queens in the battle for the local title while internationally, Harambee Starlets will attempt to qualify for the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations for the second time since 2016.

 

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