It’s do or die for Harambee Starlets in Botswana

Tuesday, December 5th, 2023 01:00 | By
Tereza Engesha of Harambee Starlets during a past match at the Nyayo National Stadium. PHOTO/Rodgers Ndegwa
Tereza Engesha of Harambee Starlets during a past match at the Nyayo National Stadium. PHOTO/Rodgers Ndegwa

Despite drawing 1-1 at Nyayo last week, the national women’s football team, Harambee Starlets, is oozing with confidence that they will emerge as the aggregate victors this evening against Botswana.

Victory would propel them to Morocco for the Africa Cup of Nations next year.
During the last training session in Nairobi on Saturday, just before the team’s departure to Gaborone, Kenya coach Beldine Odemba addressed journalists and the nation, urging everyone to believe.

Her statement was a clear call to compatriots that nothing is impossible and that the team can still make it to progress to continental football for the second time.

“I am urging our fans to believe. It’s not an easy game but it’s not hard either in various aspects. The girls are ready, and we are trying to erase the mindset of playing on away soil. We are reminding the players that it will be 11 v 11 on the pitch; they should not be intimidated by the environment or the opposing fans,” Odemba told People Sport.

The disappointing draw in Nairobi means the home team faces both physical and psychological challenges to secure a win at the National Stadium in Gaborone, starting at 4pm - Kenyan time. Heading into the match, Harambee Starlets’ technical bench is expected to make changes to the starting lineup. Experienced defender Dorcas Shikobe, who sat out entirely on Wednesday, could secure a starting role today, partnering with skipper Ruth Ingosi at the heart of Starlets’ defense.

Bunyore Starlets’ prolific striker, Airin Madalina, who emerged as the top scorer last season in the FKF Women’s Premier League with 18 goals, could also be introduced to reinforce the misfiring frontline.
Slavia Prague’s creative midfielder, Marjolen Nekesa, expressed confidence and readiness for the significant assignment against the ‘Mares.’

“We have trained well, the players are in good condition. We have worked on our mistakes from our previous game and are eager to achieve desired results here. Qualifying for the African Cup of Nations means a lot for the players, providing immense exposure on the big stage and a chance to qualify for the World Cup,” Nekesa stated.

When asked if the team is under pressure to deliver, Nekesa added, “I can say it is positive pressure. If you work under positive pressure, then you can achieve the desired outcome.”

In the first leg, Botswana exhibited a defensive strategy, clearly aiming for a draw right from kick-off.
However, in today’s game, the home team is expected to push hard against Kenya at their backyard. This could be helpful but also risky due to the open spaces at the back.

Goalkeeper and captain Sidilame Bosija, who saved a last-minute penalty from Violet Nanjala, acknowledged the game is far from over despite gaining the advantage through the away goal.
“Definitely, this game is far from over, and we need to work hard again against a good team like Kenya. We just hope that the home ground will push us to secure maximum points.”

The Alex Malete-coached side only needs to maintain the scoreline to secure a back-to-back WAFCON qualification, while Kenya aims for a win, a draw of more than two goals, or a 1-1 draw to force the game into penalties.

Harambee Starlets made history in 2016 by participating in the African Cup of Nations for the first time, and coach Beldine Odemba could potentially script history again as the first female tactician to lead Kenya to the continental showpiece.

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