4 things learnt from Junior Starlets' historic World Cup qualification

4 things learnt from Junior Starlets' historic World Cup qualification

Mark Kinyanjui 11:30 - 17.06.2024

Four key takeaways from Junior Starlets' historic World Cup qualification.

The Kenya National U17 girls' team, the Junior Starlets, has made history by becoming the first Kenyan team to qualify for a FIFA World Cup. 

They secured their place in the U-17 Women's World Cup, set to be held in the Dominican Republic in October, by defeating Burundi 2-0 on the day and 5-0 on aggregate. 

First-half goals from Marion Serenge and Valerie Nekesa at the Ulinzi Sports Complex capped a dominant performance, completing their journey to the World Cup without conceding a single goal. Here are four important lessons from this historic day in Kenyan football.

1.Kenyans love football

The turnout at the Ulinzi Sports Complex was a testament to Kenyans' passion for football. Thousands of fans came to support the Junior Starlets, injecting confidence and energy into the team, which helped them overpower Burundi. The jubilant crowd stayed after the match to celebrate with the players, demonstrating their deep connection to the sport.

This fervor isn't isolated to this match alone. The enthusiasm was evident during the CECAFA U-18 tournament in Kisumu and Kakamega, where fans came out in large numbers to support the young Kenyans. Similarly, the recent Mashemeji Derby saw a packed Nyayo Stadium, with fans eagerly watching the 95th edition of the match between AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia.

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) needs to leverage this enthusiasm by better marketing the sport and ensuring fans see the value in attending matches, thus boosting the sport's profile and financial viability in the country.

2.Balanced and cohesive team

Under the guidance of coach Mildred Cheche, the Junior Starlets have developed a balanced and cohesive unit. The players have built a strong understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities over the course of their four matches together, creating a well-oiled machine where every player complements the other.

To make a significant impact in the Dominican Republic, it's crucial to maintain this squad's chemistry. Breaking up the team, especially with crucial final exams approaching for some players, could be detrimental. These players have earned their place and should be given the opportunity to shine on the world stage, potentially transforming their careers.

3.Invest into grassroots football

The success of the Junior Starlets underscores the importance of grassroots football. The team was assembled through school games and grassroots tournaments like the Talanta Hela U-19 Cup and the Safaricom Chapa Dimba showdown. This approach has unearthed a pool of talented players capable of competing on the global stage.

To sustain and build on this success, there needs to be greater investment in grassroots football. Schools require better facilities, and young talents should be identified and nurtured from an early age. Additionally, more coaches should pursue coaching badges to enhance their skills and knowledge, which they can then pass on to young players. With increased investment, the potential for Kenyan football is enormous.

4.Stars will be dangerous against teams that play high lines

The Junior Starlets expertly exploited Burundi's high defensive line, using long balls and precise through passes to find forwards like Valerie Nekesa. This tactic consistently broke down Burundi's defense, leading to decisive goals.

At the World Cup, the Starlets will likely face teams that underestimate them and play similarly high lines. This strategy will play into the Starlets' strengths, allowing them to capitalize on their speed and precision to outmaneuver opponents and create scoring opportunities.

The Junior Starlets' qualification for the World Cup is a landmark achievement for Kenyan football. It highlights the country's love for the sport, the importance of team cohesion, the need for grassroots investment, and strategic play. As the team prepares for the World Cup in October, these lessons will be invaluable in their quest to make further history.

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