Kenya faces daunting task against unbeaten Ivory Coast in crucial World Cup qualifier

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Doubts abound on Harambee Stars’ quality as Kenya looks to bounce back against African Champions Ivory Coast in crucial World Cup Qualifier match

Kenya’s 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign suffered a disappointing setback during Matchday 3 fixtures on Friday when Harambee Stars surrendered a 1-0 lead to draw 1-1 with Burundi in a Group F match that was played in Malawi, a result that denied Engin Firat’s men an opportunity to close the gap between them and 2nd-placed Gabon, who, having lost 1-0 away to Ivory Coast on Friday night, are now two points ahead of the 3rd-placed Harambee Stars.

The Harambee Stars squad's new call-ups reflect Kenya's four points from three matches, the disappointment of not finishing the match against Burundi, the departure of midfielder Collins Sichenje due to injury, and the absence of defenders Tobias Knost and Zak Vyner due to documentation issues.

Kenya Police defender David “Cheche” Ochieng’ and his teammate, winger David Okoth, as well as Nyasa Big Bullets midfielder Clyde Senaji, count as the late additions expected to bolster the Harambee Stars squad as Kenya hopes to bounce back from Friday’s setback with a victory against African champions, the Elephants of Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast boasts a 100% record in their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, with 12 goals scored and none conceded so far. There is no denying that Harambee Stars will have to be at their absolute best if they are to get a desirable result against the three-time AFCON champions when the two sides clash today at 4 p.m. at Malawi’s Bingu National Stadium, the venue that has served as Kenya’s home during this phase of the qualifiers because the country lacks a stadium that is up to CAF and FIFA standards.

Without home support, Kenya will have to dig deep to get a result against Ivory Coast. Home support counts so much for the Harambee Stars during FIFA World Cup qualifying matches. In the 37 FIFA World Cup qualifier matches that Kenya has played on home soil, Harambee Stars have come out with 20 wins and suffered only six losses, scoring 51 goals and conceding 29.

Harambee Stars, playing against Ivory Coast for the first time in their history, must improve their poor record against defending champions. Harambee Stars will be facing a defending AFCON champion for the 19th time, and based on their past 18 matches, Harambee Stars will face a formidable challenge against the Elephants.

Kenya has won only one—a 4-3 win against Ethiopia in 1963—of the previous 18 matches that it has played against defending AFCON champions. Two of the remaining 17 matches ended in draws, as the defending AFCON champions carried the day in the other 15 matches. Ivory Coast will be the 8th defending AFCON champion that Harambee Stars is playing against in its history, having already come up against Cameroon (x2), Egypt (x3), Ethiopia (x3), Ghana (x4), Nigeria (x3), Tunisia (x2), and South Africa (x1).

Going into this match, Kenya’s shaky defence, unstable midfield, and blunt attack remain a big source of concern for Engin Firat as he prepares his game plan. Kenya's performance in competitive matches, including all FIFA World Cup qualifier matches, under the Turkish manager, who turns 54 today, has left a lot to be desired.

Other than during victories against lowly-ranked countries like Rwanda (2-1 in November 2021) and Seychelles (5-0 in November 2023), Harambee Stars complacency and nonchalance have led to the dropping of points in embarrassing fashion against Uganda (1-1 draw in November 2021) and Burundi (1-1 draw in June 2024), while their lack of bite and urgency have led to disappointing and humiliating losses against Mali (a 6-0 aggregate loss in October 2021) and Gabon (a 2-1 loss in November 2023).

The Harambee Stars have demonstrated a spark in friendly matches, yet they have yet to fully translate it into competitive matches, as evidenced by their losses to Iran (2-1 in March 2023), Mauritius (1-0 in June 2023), and South Sudan (1-0 in September 2023), as well as their allowing Russia to force a 2-2 draw in 2023.


Such a level of inconsistency does not inspire confidence going into the match against Ivory Coast, who, at position 38 on the latest FIFA Rankings, are the second-highest-ranked country Harambee Stars have played against under Engin Firat after Iran, who were 24th when Harambee Stars played them in March last year.

Given this, it remains to be seen if Harambee Stars have adequately prepared to defy expectations against Ivory Coast. However, the squad's lack of progress under Engin Firat continues to raise numerous questions.

However, as always, whenever Harambee Stars plays, regardless of the circumstances, Kenyans also hope for the best for the national team, and today will be no exception. The Harambee Stars desperately need to win today, and hopefully they have learned enough from their past mistakes to make amends today. After all, other than losing 5-0 to Mali in October 2021, Harambee Stars’ performance in the five other matches they played in neutral venues has been satisfactory—three wins and two draws. At least, however daunting the task ahead of them, there is reason to believe that Harambee Stars can get a result against Ivory Coast.

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