Harambee Starlets’ impressive run in 2019, during the Tokyo Olympics Qualifiers portended great tidings in 2020.
Despite being eliminated 3-2 on aggregate by Zambia in the penultimate round, the team’s performance in Cecafa championship, where they were crowned champions, more than made up for the defeat.
More importantly, however, is the role these tournaments played in exposing Kenya’s untapped talent in women football.
In January 2020 alone, four female footballers landed professional deals, joining some of the top flight and respected lower league clubs across the globe, in a year that has experienced little or no action globally due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
First up was Starlets’ impressive shot stopper Anette Kundu and defender Ruth Ingosi, both who were playing for WPL side Eldoret Falcons, moving to the Cyprus capital Nicosia, where they landed deals with top tier side Lakatamia FC. They later switched allegiance to AEL in the same league.
At the same time, there was a tussle for experienced midfielder Corazone Aquino’s signature between Spanish second division sides Osasuna and Portugal’s Atletico as she finally settled for the latter.
As if in tune, Vihiga Queens’ forward Cynthia Shilwatso also signed a three-year deal with Spanish top flight side Logrono.
The youngster had been invited for a three-month trial with Swedish side Hammarby, in 2018, but failed to secure a permanent deal.
While the other three joined their respective clubs, Shilwatso finalised her deal in February and was scheduled to travel in March but the global Covid-19 outbreak cut short her travel plans.
A day before her appointment for an interview to get her visa at last March, Shilwatso received a message informing her that the embassy would remain closed until further notice in the wake of the coronavirus. It was not until August 5 that she got to travel to Spain.
While the four were making major strides in their careers, another sensation’s move hit a snag.
The then Thika Queens and Starlets’ forward Mwanahalima Adam was scheduled to head for two-week trials with Djurgårdens IF in the Swedish women’s association football top division before an agreement could be reached.
The Swedish move never materialized but on December 3, Adam’s long overdue move to the paid ranks came to be as she left the country to join Israeli club Maccabi Holon FC on a six-month loan deal.
Another move that had fans excited was Esse Akida’s two-year deal with Turkish champions Besiktas after spending two years at FC Ramat HaSharon-Israel since landing her first pro deal with the side in October 2018.
She made history as the first Kenyan woman to join a side that features in the Uefa Women’s Champions League.
24-year-old Bertha Omitta also added to the growing number of foreign based players after penning a two-year deal with Simba Queens of Tanzania, from Kisumu All Starlets.
Former Kenya international Musa Otieno and Starlets’ head coach David Ouma are said to have used their extensive contacts to invite reputable scouts to Kenya in 2019 as Starlets took on Ghana in the Olympics qualifiers as well as during the Cecafa championship held in Tanzania.
The players too did not disappoint as they beat highly ranked Ghana 1-0 in a third round return leg match of the qualifiers, having held them to a goalless draw away in Accra.
They followed their impressive performance in the qualifiers with a 2-0 win over Tanzania to lift their maiden Cecafa Senior Women’s Challenge Cup.