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Starlets face Equatorial Guinea hurdle en-route to AWCON

National football women’s team Harambee Starlets have a hurdle to jump over in the form of Equatorial Guinea in their bid to feature in this year’s Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON).

Richard Kanyi’s charges have a date with Uganda in a two-leg round one encounter that will be played between April 2 and 10 after which the winner will play Equatorial Guinea in the second round slated for June.

Equatorial Guinea stand in the way for Starlets’ second appearance in AWCON as their neighbours Crested Cranes of Uganda do not pose a great threat to the national team. The last time the two teams met in 2016 for a friendly match, Starlets easily saw off their opponents 4-0. Kanyi’s side also looks superior on paper if the current FIFA rankings are anything to go by.

Kenya is ranked 144th while Cranes are ranked 115th. In Equatorial Guinea, however, Kenya will be up against a tough side, seeing that they are ranked 51st globally.

Twenty teams will begin their campaign in the first round while four, Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, have been given a bye to the next round.

Eight teams will qualify to play in the final tournament, including Ghana who qualified automatically as hosts. Equatorial Guinea were initially banned from the tournament but were reinstated after the ban was lifted in July 2017 at an emergency CAF committee meeting, and were included in the qualifying draw.

However, FIFA have banned them from qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, meaning they could not qualify for the World Cup regardless of their performance in the AWCON.

Meanwhile, a provisional squad of 31 was named earlier this week and is set to kick off training on March 5 at Machakos Stadium under head Kanyi ahead of Crested Cranes’ tie.

The squad sees the return of Spedag’s Esse Akida, Mary Kinuthia of newly-promoted Gaspo having missed in the last duty the team did in Confederation of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) Women’s Championship in Bulawayo, where the team was featuring for the first time as the quest nation. USA-based Marjolene Nekesa has also been included.

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