Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga celebrates in a past game. [FKF Media]

There was a growing sense in Harambee Stars camp ahead of Tuesday’s 4pm crucial 2026 World Cup Qualifiers match against Ivory Coast despite current developments in the camp.

Though the two teams are coming off quite contrasting results, Kenyan camp has been dominated with late call ups and injury news with Bristol City defender Zak Vyner Onyego abruptly returning to England after failing to feature in Friday’s disappointing 1-1 draw against Burundi due to documentation issues.

Having seen the likes of Clifton Miheso (AFC Leopards), Baron Ochieng (Sofapaka), Clyde Senaji (Big Bullets) and David Okoth (Kenya Police) receiving late call ups, experienced Kenya Police defender David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi yesterday as Onyego’s replacement. German-born Kenyan defender Tobias Knost is doubtful for today’s match due to paperwork issues.

While the African champions saw off Gabon to maintain their unbeaten run and remain top of Group F, Stars squandered a chance to keep pressure on the Elephants after they were frustrated to a 1-1 draw by lowly-ranked Burundi at Bingu Stadium on Friday.

But as these two sides collide in what could either turn around Kenya’s fortunes or put the Elephants in a pole position to return to the global showpiece, coaches from both sides are cautious ahead of the fixture.

“Against Burundi, we missed eight players and one more will miss today. Unfortunately, we are a country which cannot replace one player. If you get everyday news about missing players, it affects the camp,” said Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat.

“We have played against big teams like Qatar and Russia before, so I don’t think we will have any issue with self-confidence against Ivory Coast. But you get negative news about the team every day, it can affect you. Of course, there is a big difference in quality between Ivory Coast and us, but we will try to put our hearts on the field and give our best. “

His Ivorian counterpart Emerse Faé simply said: “We have a little advantage based on our last matches' results; we won and Kenya drew, but we have to be focused because in Africa today there are no small teams, all teams play well and they are able to beat anyone. However, it’s a battle, first to keep on winning and for us to go on holiday with 12 points is more important and that’s exactly what we want to do.”

Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga was optimistic ahead of the match.

“We had a setback against Burundi, but that’s now behind us. The team is now focused on the Ivory Coast match,” said Olunga.

“Yes, Ivory Coast are the African champions and they will pose a different threat compared to Burundi. But each and every game, we have to plan and see the opponents’ weaknesses and try to counter them. It’s not going to be an easy game, but the boys are really ready for the challenge. We hope to minimize on our mistakes against Ivory.”

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