by Kimathi Kamau

The Kenyan women’s football team landed in Cameroon on Friday keen on making history on their debut at the Africa Women Cup of Nation (Awcon) continental showpiece.

Since April when the side formerly known as Harambee Starlets eclipsed their male counterparts and qualified for the continental competition, the team has captured the imagination of a nation and shattered barriers in a male-dominated society.

From relative obscurity, the girls have become local super stars after giving their football success-starved nation a huge lift by continually beating their opponents home and abroad in the run-up to the Awcon that kicks-off on Sunday.

Their remarkable rise belies the hardship the squad has had to face since the qualifiers begun and it is only in May last year when the Starlets first hit news headlines for all the wrong reasons.

At the time, Starlets were seeking to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics when the players were forced to sleep in the men’s changing rooms at Nairobi’ s Safaricom Stadium despite the facility enjoying proper hostels when the then Football Kenya Federation (FKF) administration could not afford to pay for their housing.

For two nights, the squad of 26 slept on mattresses in the cold concrete floor at the sporting complex they were camping before the neighbouring National Youth Talent Academy came to their rescue and provided them with bedding.

Despite the humiliation, Starlets went on to beat Botswana 1-0 in the return leg of their Olympics qualifier to sail through to the final round on the away goals rule after a 2-2 tie before they narrowly fell 1-0 on aggregate to continental giants South Africa to miss a ticket to Brazil.

The team then embarked on their journey to make the Awcon for the first time in their history and after being given a bye when their first round opponents Ethiopia withdrew, they beat North African giants Algeria on the away goals after a 2-2 draw away before a 1-1 stalemate in Nairobi to make the 10-team finals in Cameroon.

Following the FKF regime change in February during the elections that saw Nick Mwendwa succeed the much-maligned Sam Nyamweya, Starlets provided a platform for the new administration to endear themselves to the public.

The domestic federation embarked on a build-up program that saw the team travel to Spain and Morocco to feature in friendly games besides their run at the inaugural regional Cecafa Women Championship in Uganda that was organized to help their preparations.

Starlets raced through to the final before they were stunned 2-1 by Tanzania and either side of the tournament, they have played Cameroon, Egypt and Uganda in build-up matches.

On Thursday, the federation hosted them to a luncheon where they were set the target of a top-four finish in their debut African Cup of Nations to book a 2019 World Cup place ticket in France.

The team jetted out of the country on Friday morning to Cameroon, where they will hold a two-week camp in the coastal city of Limbe before the official kick-off date Nov. 19.

“Our goal is to reach the semi finals, we set the goal early this year when we beat Algeria and qualified here in Kasarani. We have been working towards it and we are sure we have done what we ought to have done to make it. We can’t change our initial target, we have been doing well over time and proved it is possible to do it,” FKF boss Mwendwa declared.

Head coach David Ouma assured the team will not disappoint; saying everything they needed to perform has been offered.

“We have the right team representing us. The idea has been developing players physically and technically, so we have tried a big number over time but we have finally settled for the best for this job.

“As a coach I’m content with the preparations for the tournament, the ball is in our court to give our best,” he underscored.

Ouma admitted the team would miss the services of former captain Neddy Atieno who recently joined the military and Mwanahalima Dogo Adam who is sitting for the O-Level national examinations.

Starlets are in pool B with defending champions Nigeria, Ghana and Mali. They are set to play hosts Cameroon on Sunday in a friendly, in Yaounde. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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