BY DAVID ONJILI
The national women soccer team Harambee Starlets have defied the odds and as they prepare for their maiden appearance at the continental soccer showpiece in Cameroon this November, the entire nation in typical Kenyan fashion has recognized and are now happy to be associated with them. Success, indeed, has many fathers and failure none.
Starlets have defied many perenial odds including lack of training facilities to qualify for the continental challenge. As such, they have earned their right to special mention.
With current Football Kenya Federation under the youthful Nick Mwendwa, management has improved. The girls are fully kitted,they have been accorded the best preparations that any Kenyan sports team has ever witnessed in a while. For a sport that has been constantly subjected to players not getting their allowances in time or at all, or failure to send air tickets to professionals when the federation knew they were needed in camp, this is totally a paradigm shift.
The girls have been given an opportunity to totally focus on the tournament. Under a local coach, David Ouma assisted by Mary Odhiambo and the reliable face of Kenyan female football Doreen Nabwire as team manager, they have so far debunked the myth that a local sporting team needs a foreign coach to perform. Nabwire is a strong advocate of the game, urging the female game to be given the recognition that their male couterparts get from the federation and government. With the new office, her cause, alongside many other stake holders in the women’s league have not been in vain.
Harambee Starlets will be making a maiden appearance at the Africa Women Cup of Nations, buoyed by the fact that they eliminated Algeria to qualify and that they have prepared well for the tournament. They will be the underdogs in their group B that features: Nigeria (Super Falcons), ranked 37th by FIFA Worldwide and reigning African champions who have featured in 7 World Cups and bookmakers favourites to win the tournament. Super Falcons are also the nine time winners of the African Women Championships in – 1991,1995,1998,2000,2002,2004,2006,2010,2014. They are the most dominant and succesful female nation in African Soccer; Mali, which is ranked 92 by FIFA Worldwide and have appeared at the African Women Championships a record five times, exiting at the group stages on all occasions; and Ghana, the Black Queen who are ranked 47 worldwide by FIFA. The Black Queens have appeared in three FIFA World Cups but losing at the group stages in all occassions. They have also featured ten times in the African Women Championships. The Harambee Starlets are ranked 132 worldwide by FIFA and will be making their maiden appearance at the championships.
While Kenya will be making her maiden appearance on the continental stage, the female game having only come this far recently, her opponents have been serious over a long period of time primarily due to the fact that their respective federations took the female game seriously early. Yet, there in lies the advantage to Harambee Starlets – the underdog tag.
Little is known of us by our opponents. As Sun Tzu states in his book The Art of War, “If you know yourself and know your opponent, you do not fear the result of 100 battles.” This maxim cannot be applicable to us by our opponents. Majority of our players play in local leagues which may not be televised for our opponents to get hold of videos to analyze their play, unlike Nigeria, Cameroon and Mali who have well developed leagues and seasoned players whom at one time or the other we must have watched and can easily draw up a counter strategy to their gameplan.
Blueprint of Underdogs and chance to do nation proud.
Harambee Starlets will be charting a territory that’s not new. They are ranked obvious outsiders by virtue of making their maiden appearance yet, in this lies the golden opportunity that teams like Greece in the European Championships in Portugal in 2004 used to their strengths to win the tournament.
This is not just blind optimism or patriotism. The preparations that the team has had point to a squad that has been together for time and have unity of purpose. While you cannot rule out the importance of individual brilliance, football is largely a team sport. Teams that lately assemble superstars in the hope of winning tournaments have been surprised. The defensive set up must be well organised and in tandem, this can only be realized by playing together over time with a core unit of players. The midfield and striking departments can only function if there is well coordinanted movement and understanding.
Harambee Starlets have been lucky to have been in camp for long and the current football federation has accorded them the necessary preparations with high quality friendlies. For a start, is recommendable. The team camped in Spain on invitation. They also played and ended runners up at the just concluded CECAFA championships in Uganda and at the time of going to press, they were in Morrocco playing friendlies, having drabbed Wydad Cassablanca 8-1 in a friendly. They will later play friendlies at home against Egypt and Cameroon before flying out for the competition proper.
Head coach, David Ouma alongside his technical bench must have tried and tested different fomations and by now they must have settled on the right side. Player chemistry has been achieved and while you cannot undrpin the sature of the opponents, Starlets must be a defensive rock, all players must defend efficiently and the forward players must convert the chances that they will get. That’s the way of the underdog, defensive solidity and effeciency infront of goal.
CS Sports, Hassan Wario, recently carelessly said that “Kenya is an athletics country that thinks it’s a footballing powerhouse.” His remarks could come back and haunt him. The Starlets have breathed life to a sport (women football) that was once neglected and few spoke of. The show that the players who will don the national colours will put on in Cameroon will be engraved in the hearts and minds of Kenyans for years.
This is a time that the team must remember that with blood, sweat and tears they must graft for the badge on the front of their jerseys and history will forever be kind to the names at the back of the same jerseys. The team and not a single player should be the main focus at the tournament. Iceland eliminated England at EURO 2016, Wales reached the Semis of EURO 2016 by sheer determination and team work over any individualism and stardom mentality.
The local football federation must be commended for their hand in the excellent preparation of the team and on November 20 when Starlets kick off their campaign against Ghana, they are assured that they will be the pride of a nation as 40 million and more will cheer from Kenya, the echoes will be heard. Go Starlets, go.