NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 21- Harambee Starlets will play two high profile international friendly matches as they intensify preparations ahead of their debut in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) slated for Cameroon in November.
Starlets, the beaten finalists in the recently concluded CECAFA Women’s Championship in Uganda, will host 2016 Nations Cup hosts Cameroon before travelling to Rabat to face Morocco in another build-up match.
This was confirmed by Football Kenya Federation boss Nick Mwendwa when welcoming back the team that was treated to a warm reception at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport before being hosted to a luncheon.
“This team has great potential and we want to ensure we give them a good platform to prepare. Two weeks from now, they go back to camp and we have two friendly matches to help them be ready for the tournament,” Mwendwa said.
“Cameroon had requested to come to Nairobi to play us and we had initially said no. But after the CECAFA final, we said, why not. They will come here then we will travel to play Morocco before travelling to Yaoundé. We want to play teams stronger than us so that we gauge ourselves,” Mwendwa announced.
It will be a perfect opportunity for the Kenyan girls to prepare and put themselves on the weighing scale against some of the continent’s best with Cameroon having played at the Cup of Nations 10 times before.
Morocco did not qualify for the biennial showpiece after losing to Kenya’s group opponents Mali 2-1 on aggregate in the first round of the qualifiers.
The FKF boss said the next challenge will be to ensure they make a good impression in Cameroon, the bigger picture being qualification for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
“At the moment we want to go there and see whether we can make the semi-finals. We are in a tough group but Mali and Ghana we can manage. In 2018, we want to go and try to get to the final and probably win the tournament and in 2019, the ultimate goal will be to get to the women’s World Cup,” he added.
Starlets head coach David Ouma believes his charges can do well in Cameroon, saying they have picked up massive lessons from the last two tournaments, the COTIF Championship in Spain and most recently CECAFA in Jinja.
“As a team we have really grown. If you compare how we played in Spain and what we did in Uganda, there was a massive improvement. We now only need to ensure we remain consistent throughout. Heading to AFCON we need to get creative players because that is one area we are lacking in,” Ouma said.
Team Captain Ann Aluoch admitted the team was disappointed after failing to clinch the CECAFA title, but says they want to turn that disappointment to AWCON glory.
“We had high expectations heading into the final. Losing was really painful but that is now behind our backs. We focus on what is ahead, which is the Cup of Nations and our aim remains to do well and get to the semis. We are in a tough group but I believe we can make it,” Aluoch offered.
The government has also promised to offer the team all the support they need, after fully funding their trips to Spain and Uganda.
“I hear everyone saying that we want to reach the semi-finals and probably Nigeria might beat us. But I think we have the same ability and we can still do it. If there is anything you want, the government is here to provide, but we must go there and do our best,” Wesley Ong’ayo, the Sports Ministry’s Director of Administration said during the luncheon.
The girls will shift their attention back to the FKF Women’s Premier League which is set to end next month, before concentrating on the Cameroon tournament.
Ouma has decried the unavailability of influential winger Mwanahalima ‘Dogo’ Adam who will be unavailable for the tournament as she will be sitting for her final Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations.