NAIROBI, April 7 – History beckons for Kenya’s women football team Harambee Starlets as they take to the Stade Omar Hamadi stadium in Algiers for the first-leg of the 2016 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations final qualifier against Algeria on Friday.
A win against Algeria over the two legs will earn Starlets a ticket to the final tournament scheduled for November in Cameroon and it is this milestone that Kenya will be banking on to stun the highly rated Algeria.
“We have a chance to make history. No other Kenyan women’s team has ever made it to AFCON and we have one of the best chances to do so. As players, to be part of history is what drives us,” skipper Anne Aluoch stated.
Starlets come up against an Algerian side which has played in four African Nations Cup tournaments and are placed eighth in the continent and 74th globally.
The North Africans booked a slot in the second round after eliminating Ethiopia 2-1 on aggregate, following a 1-1 draw away in the first-leg and a 1-0 win at home.
Starlets on the other hand were handed a bye after DR Congo withdrew from the preliminary round citing financial constraints.
Among the Algerian players to watch is forward Dalila Zerrouki, who scored in both legs against Ethiopia, something that has left Starlets head coach David Ouma to be cautious in a match where an away goal will do them justice before hosting the return leg in a fortnight.
“I have watched a few of their clips and I have seen they are swift. They have good strikers which means we have to put our defence intact and avoid conceding. If we can get an away goal then that would be a huge plus for us,” Ouma noted.
In the hunt for the away goal, the coach will be looking upon Mary Kinuthia after Uganda based striker Millicent Mwanzia was ruled out with an ankle injury.
Kenya’s backbone will be in the midfield where experienced Martha Karimi, who is making a comeback, will partner with deputy captain Cherich Avillian in deep centre while Neddie Atieno will be tasked to make the runs on the flanks.
Defender Aluoch anticipates a tough encounter but was confident his charges will contain Algeria after having ample time to prepare for the clash.
“Two years ago, Ethiopia hammered us 5-0 and that will motivate the Algerians since they bundled out them in the preliminary round. We need to be cautious and ensure we keep a clean sheet. We have the confidence we can do it,” the FC Makolanders full-back said.
Starlets will hope the ghosts that haunted them last year when they were one step away to the 2016 Olympics will not follow them to their AFCON campaign.
The girls lost 2-0 on aggregate to South Africa’s Banyana Banyana in the penultimate stage of the qualifiers with Ouma saying they bowed out since his team was nervous.
Team Manager Doreen Nabwire, a former Kenyan international whose football career has seen her scale the German Bundesliga, is confident the girls will sustain the pressure.
“It is not going to be easy. It depends with how the girls handle the situation but I’m confident in their abilities. They have trained well and it is now up to them to give their best,” Nabwire said.