Football Football

Starlets start Spain campaign against Benfica

Cherish Avilia (legft) and Esse Akida share a light moment during training.
Cherish Avilia (left) and Esse Akida (right) share a light moment during training.

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 29 – The national women’s football team Harambee Starlets will take on two-time Portuguese champions Benfica in the opening game of the six-team invitational tournament in Spain beginning Sunday.

Other teams which have been invited for the week long tournament include Espanyol, Real Betis and Elche, all from the Spanish Women League as well as the Venezuela national team.

The team departs for Spain on Saturday morning and head coach David Ouma is positive the trip will hand them the best exposure ahead of their debut at the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon later in November.

“Our ultimate dream is to play in the World Cup one day and playing against tough teams from Europe will give us an opportunity to gain that experience and confidence. For me, it is a dream come true to see a women’s national football team going out of the country to prepare for a tournament,” Ouma underscored.

The tactician has named a youthful team for the trip with the likes of Soccer Queens’ duo of Mercy Achieng and Purity Nyongesa making the cut.

“The players have shown they are ready for the big stage and we have to give them this opportunity. I think they will form an integral part of this team in the years to come and it is important to start giving them experience early,” Ouma said.

Nyongesa scored twice in Thursday’s friendly where Starlets hammered visiting Nazarene University from the United States of America 8-0 at the Safaricom Kasarani Stadium.

Achieng also had her name on the score sheet with other goals coming from Corazon Adhiambo, Esse Akida, Mary Kinuthia, Cherish Avillia and Christine Nafula.

“It has always been my dream to play for the national team and I am so excited being named in the team. I now need to work harder and get a permanent starting role,” the soft spoken Nyongesa stated.

New girl Mercy Achieng in action during the friendly match against United States' Nazarene University.
New girl Mercy Achieng in action during the friendly match against United States’ Nazarene University.

Ouma will be relying on the experienced girls in his squad with skipper Ann Aluoch, midfielder Avilia as well as wingers Kinuthia and Akida.

Akida is in imperious form, having scored 13 goals in six league matches for her Mombasa based club Spedag and she hopes to translate this form to the national team.

“It has been a good season for me because I have dedicated most of my time to training and working hard on the pitch. It is my hope that I can carry this same form into the national team and hopefully, we can do well in Spain,” Akida asserted.

“We have a strong team and what makes us good is the team work. Everyone works hard for the team and you find the cohesion is better because most of the players in the national team are from Spedag so there’s understanding,” she added.

Starlets go into the tournament with shoulders high, having played and won all their last three friendly matches and keeping a clean sheet.

They beat neighbors Uganda Cranes 4-0 in an international friendly in Kisumu early this month while in the past week, they played against ABC boys’ under-16 team from Mathare, beating them 3-0.

The team has few injury worries with goalkeeper Samantha Akinyi and dependable striker Neddy Atieno sitting out of the last two friendly matches with knocks.

Harambee Starlets team to Spain:

Goalkeepers: Samantha Akinyi, Vivian Akinyi

Defenders: Ann Aluoch, Elizabeth Andiego, Wendy Achieng, Irene Ogutu, Dorcas Shikobe, Sharon Aluoch, Dorcas Anyango

Midfielders; Carolyne Anyango, Esse Akida, Cherich Avillia, Corazon Aquino, Enez Mango, Christine Nafula, Mercy Achieng, Jacky Ogol

Strikers: Purity Nyongesa, Neddy Atieno, Mary Kinuthia