NAIROBI, June 18 – Harambee Starlets chances of qualifying to the 2016 Olympics Games took a knock after going down 1-0 to hosts South Africa’s Banyana Banyana in the third round played at Dobsonville Stadium in Johannesburg.
The defeat leave Starlets with a must win return-leg when the two sides clash in a fortnight at Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos.
Starlets however, can leave Johannesburg with their heads high after a gritty performance that left them with a presentable chance of overturning the deficit back home.
Their showing came despite not having time to train at the venue after arriving on the eve of the match.
After experiencing visa troubles, some of the players arrived on midnight Friday and others on Saturday morning as they felt the pitch only when the sides emerged for pre-match warm up ahead of the 3pm local time (+2GMT).
Lerato Ramalepe scored the winner to help her fancied national women’s team notch a slim lead into the second-leg where they will be hoping overcome the Kenyans to advance to the fourth round where Nigeria or Equatorial Guinea await.
A 1-0 victory was a disappointing result to the South Africans, especially after skipper, Nompumelelo Nyande spoke about how they needed to hammer the visitors in the first-leg.
Banyana Banyana who demolished Gabon 8-2 in the second round, struggled to break down Kenya, missing a number of opportunities through key players, Sanah Mollo, Thembi Kgatlana and Slindile Ngubane as goalkeeper Atieno Owino stood tall.
Starlets on the other hand did not look like a team that had just arrived, playing with discipline and organisation to hold the hosts who dominated possession but failed to make it count when it matters.
Ramalepe saved their blushes with a lucky goal, just after the hour mark when she saw her cross beat Atieno for the opener.
David Ouma charges will be seeking to make good use of the home advantage to repeat what they did against Botswana when Dorcas Shikobe late strike saw them edge out Botswana and book Banyana Banyana date on away goal rule after the match ended 2-2 on aggregate.
The winner in the fourth round will represent Africa in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.