Harambee Stars face huge task ahead of World Cup qualifiers

A dejected Harambee Stars midfielder Richard Odada reacts after loss to South Sudan during their international friendly match at Kasarani Stadium on Tuesday. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Harambee Stars shocking loss to South Sudan’s Bright Stars on Tuesday’s friendly match at Kasarani Stadium remains a talking point in local football circles.

The embarrassing 1-0 loss, which came barely a week after they beat World Cup hosts Qatar 2-1 in Doha, leaves a lot to be desired as the national team gears up for 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

South Sudan’s striker Tito Okello, a Kenya Police FC new signing, scored in the second minute following a defensive error from Joseph Okumu.

Coach Engin Firat, who has not been paid for almost nine months, now has a mountain to climb as Harambee Stars are set to start off their 2016 World Cup qualifiers in November.

Firat said after the match: “It is not only a one man game. It’s all a learning process. I cannot single out the results. For today, I was a little bit afraid when the boys were not focused and concentrated. They could not play as a set. The first 10 or 15 minutes were different. We made very simple mistakes. Joseph Okumu is one of the best we have and he never makes such mistakes. It happens and this is football. It’s painful to lose at home. But we also lacked creativity.”

South Sudan coach Stefano Cusin said: “The first half is different from the second half. For the first half, I asked the team to press for the first time together aggressively. Again, if they don’t get the ball they pass through the mid field to be compact in the last 15 metres. I saw this against Qatar and we got the goal in two minutes.”

Harambee Stars are in Group F with Burundi, Gambia, Gabon, Seychelles and Cote d’ Ivoire. Kenya begins the first campaign against Gabon and Cote’d Ivoire in November.

Firat must be scratching his head as his charges –who lie at 105 in Fifa rankings –face Gabon (ranked 85) and Cote’ d Ivoire (ranked 52). But Firat would strive to pick points when Harambee Stars visit Seychelles (ranked 194) in November before playing Gambia (ranked 119) away and host Burundi (ranked 140) and Cote’ d Ivoire in June next year.

In March 2025, Harambee Stars will travel to Gambia before hosting Gabon and Seychelles in September that year.  The following month, Harambee Stars will head to Burundi for the return leg of the qualifiers before winding up the campaign in a trip to Cote’ d Ivoire.

The national team’s match against South Sudan stood out as the fifth meeting in history between the two teams.

Sadly, hosts Harambee Stars lost the match to 12-year-old Africa’s youngest nation. The defeat came even as President William Ruto had gone viral in social media making a rallying call in camera to Kenyans to turn up in large numbers to cheer on the national team.

That came a week after Harambee Stars win in Doha in what emerged as a river of hope for improved standards of Kenyan football.

It now remains to be seen what tactics Firat will summon and make a miracle for the national team.

Victory over Qatar was Firat’s third win in eight matches while in charge of Harambee Stars. They include last year’s 2-1 win against Rwanda, a 1-1 draw against Uganda Cranes in a World Cup qualifier at Kasarani before losing 1-0 to Iran and Mauritius in friendly matches. 

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