Why Kenya can't afford to drop the ball, again

Harambee Stars Goalkeeper Patrick Matasi training ahead of their upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers matches to be played in Gabon and Seychelles at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Annex Nov 13, 2023. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

In the quest for a coveted spot in the 2026 Fifa World Cup, Kenya's national football team, Harambee Stars, finds itself at a critical juncture after a disappointing start to the qualifiers.

Drawn in a challenging group alongside football powerhouses such as Ivory Coast, Gabon, Gambia, Burundi, and Seychelles, Kenya faced a tough test in their opening match against Gabon, which they lost 2-1 at Stade De la Renovation in Franceville.

Their second Group F match against Seychelles today at Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan looms large as a crucial opportunity for redemption.

Despite taking a 1-0 lead into halftime in Franceville, Harambee Stars couldn't withstand the second-half onslaught from Gabon, ultimately succumbing to a 2-1 defeat.

Masud Juma's 40th-minute goal gave Kenya an initial advantage, but Denis Bouanga and Guelor Kanga's strikes in the 60th and 88th minutes sealed victory for Gabon.

The loss has intensified the pressure on Kenya, who are now last in Group F along with Gambia and Seychelles, all without a single point to their name.

Ivory Coast lead the standings, followed by Burundi and Gabon, each boasting three points.

The Ivorians showcase their dominance with a superior goal difference of nine, having thumped Seychelles 9-0 in their opening encounter.

In the wake of this setback, Harambee Stars head coach Engin Firat remains resolute, expressing determination ahead of the crucial clash against Seychelles.

“We will go there to win, there is no other way out because we need these points. In this group, all teams are very close to each other so every point you get in every match is very important.”

Firat recognises the urgency of the situation, acknowledging that every point now matters significantly in the fiercely competitive Group F.

Firat acknowledged the setback caused by the defeat to Gabon but remained optimistic about the team's prospects.

"Now we have to pick every single point. The defeat has set us back, and we have to start on Monday by winning the match against Seychelles. Every point is important from now going forward. It won’t be easy, but we will manage," he said.

History is on Kenya's side as they have never lost to Seychelles in previous encounters. The last meeting between the two sides in 2015 saw Harambee Stars emerge victorious with a 2-0 scoreline.

In the 2014 World Cup qualifiers preliminaries, Kenya dominated Seychelles with convincing wins of 4-0 and 3-0 in 2011.

As Harambee Stars prepare to take the field against Seychelles, past records provide a glimmer of hope and confidence.

However, football is unpredictable, and the team must remain focused and resilient to secure the much-needed three points in their pursuit of World Cup glory.

The upcoming clash against Seychelles is not just a game; it's a chance for Harambee Stars to rewrite their World Cup narrative, demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity, and reignite the dreams of a nation hungry for football success on the global stage.

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