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Junior Starlets carry Kenya’s hopes of a first-ever World Cup appearance

Junior Starlets carry Kenya’s hopes of a first-ever World Cup appearance

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 9 – Kenya could see a team play at the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever if the Under-17 girls national team can successfully play two home and away matches in the coming weeks.

The Junior Starlets arrived in Addis Ababa on Wednesday evening, ready to take on hosts Ethiopia in the first leg of the penultimate qualifying round on Friday, before hosting the return match at the Ulinzi Sports Complex nine days later.

The African under-17 qualifiers had three legs, with Kenya receiving a bye into the first round following DR Congo’s withdrawal.

The team will play Ethiopia in the second round, and an aggregate victory here will see them advance to the final qualifying round, where a date with Burundi or Djibouti awaits.

“We know it is a huge dream for the country, but we take it one game at a time. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” says head coach Mildred Cheche.

The team spent two weeks in a residential camp before traveling to Ethiopia for the first leg. Coach Cheche says they are in good spirits and well prepared for what is expected to be a grueling battle in Addis.

Girls who work hard

Lorine Ilavonga from Junior Starlets during a training session

“The girls have really worked hard and their morale is high for this competition. They have all carried the dream of playing for the national team and now that they have earned the opportunity, they have shown that they deserve it,” said the tactician.

She adds; “They came here to show that they are up to the task. They are hungry and we have the ambition to get a good result in the first leg.”

A clean-sheet win on enemy territory would be the coach’s dream, and she says their ambition is to absolutely get a result they can build on in the return leg at home.

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“It will be a difficult match. Both countries have shown that they have a good crop of talented players who can compete at international level. We will work hard and the girls are really determined to get a good result,” said the coach.

Driven by the desire to write history

Diana Anyango dribbles the ball during a training session.

Team captain Elizabeth Ochaka says the girls are driven by the desire to make history for the country, and the lure of playing in a World Cup provides them with a huge incentive to give their best to earn a ticket to the final qualifying round.

Ochaka says the girls have pampered themselves and are ready for the task, confirming that they will treat every minute of the 180 minutes as if their lives depend on it.

“We trained very well and followed the instructions of our coaches. Everyone wants to perform well in the game. We can’t say it’s a difficult or easy match, but we take it very seriously. We hope to achieve a good result outdoors,” said the skipper.

The girls will be hoping to do better than the Under-20 girls who fell short in the penultimate hurdle of their World Cup qualifier last year.