Harambee Stars’ depth: Will it be strong enough for the 2026 World Cup and AFCON 2025 qualifiers?

Harambee Stars players train ahead of their match against Qatar in September. Photo Credit | Timothy Olobulu

FOOTBALL Harambee Stars’ depth: Will it be strong enough for the 2026 World Cup and AFCON 2025 qualifiers?

Mark Kinyanjui 08:00 - 22.10.2023

How deep is Harambee Stars squad ahead of the start of a year stocked with competitive fixtures that include the 2026 World Cup and AFCON 2025 qualifiers?

In November, Harambee Stars will be taking part in competitive fixtures for the first time since 2021 when they beat Rwanda 2-1 in a dead-rubber World Cup qualifying match shortly before the year-long ban imposed on the country’s football due to government interference.

Kenya never took part in any games in the whole of 2022, and by the time the ban was getting lifted in November that year, they had already been locked out of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers which will take place in Ivory Coast next January.

However, they have taken part in six friendly matches this year against Iran, Pakistan, Mauritius, Qatar, South Sudan and Russia, which has given coach Engin Firat the time needed to build a team in his image.

Firat has had ample time to establish an identity about the side, considering he was thrown into the deep end in 2021 after two World Cup qualifiers that ended in underwhelming stalemates against Uganda and Rwanda under Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee.

His first match in charge was a 5-0 drubbing by Mali in Morocco, before losing 1-0 at home against the same opposition a few days later. He then drew 1-1 away to Uganda before the last international match in 15 months against Rwanda at the Nyayo National Stadium.

Heading into the November qualifiers against Gabon and Seychelles, how deep is his squad? Pulse Sports analyses the players he has called up so far and those he could still give the nod ahead of what will be a busy year and a very defining one in many ways for Kenyan football.


This is a position that has proven very problematic since Arnold Origi had initially decided to call it quits in 2016 after obtaining Norwegian citizenship. 

Former coach Francis Kimanzi even admitted in an interview in 2021 that once Origi, Duncan Ochieng’ and Noah Ayuko retired, the country would struggle and it proved to be the case.

Boniface Oluoch had a run in the team at some point but never convinced, Patrick Matasi was the first-choice goalkeeper at the 2019 AFCON but his reactive and panic-oriented displays meant that he was a stop-gap and Ian Otieno has struggled to make any progress since leaving AFC Leopards for Zambia.

However, KCB custodian Bryne Odhiambo has proven since making his debut in June against Pakistan that he is the keeper that can be relied on during the qualifiers.

Odhiambo oozes calmness in goal, is excellent with the ball at his feet, commands his area well and is a good shot-stopper. South Sudan head coach Steffano Cusin even described him as young and ‘talented’ in September.

He unfortunately suffered a fracture to his left leg that will rule him out for two months, but if he retains his form once fit, he will earn many caps.

Engin Firat has also called up Sofapaka’s Simon Masaka, Gor Mahia’s Gad Mathews, AFC Leopards’ Levis Opiyo and Tusker’s Brian Bwire over the six games this year.


A position Firat has chopped and changed over the six games so far. However, after years of the position being problematic, Firat can rely on four different right-backs who have different qualities and are very versatile.

Viborg’s Daniel Anyembe looks the nailed on starter after impressive displays against Russia and Qatar. He can drop to form a back three in build up given he can play as a centre-back, and can overlap when needed.

Firat has also used Amos Nondi, a natural midfielder by trade, to play as a right-back, and Gor Mahia’s Rooney Onyango made a stellar debut against Russia as a right winger.

Tusker’s Daniel Sakari has also been used as a winger who interchanges with the right midfielder and right-back, and has a long-flat bullet throw that can give Harambee Stars an advantage from set piece situations.


This position is currently nailed on for Erick ‘Marcelo’  Ouma who is the first choice left-back. He has been since 2019, although he can also play as a left winger or left wing-back if Firat wants to use a back three.

He has also called up veteran Abud Omar as well as English-based pair Clarke Oduor and Vincent Harper. Harper is yet to earn a cap, while Oduor was given 15 minutes as a left winger against South Sudan before being subbed off. Mohammed Siraj of Bandari was also called up in June.


A position where Kenya is well stocked with good options. The first choice pairing is now well established as Stade Reims’ Joseph Okumu and Estrela Amaradora’s Johstone Omurwa are developing a formidable partnership. Both are pacey, are good on the ball and imperious in the air.

They can build attacks from the back given their ball-playing abilities, as seen for Nondi’s winning goal against Qatar when Omurwa’s well-executed 60-yard pass set up the attack.

Mamelodi Sundowns’ Brian Mandela is third choice, while former AFC Leopards defender Collins Shichenje also had a run out against Pakistan and Mauritius. Kenya Police’s David ‘Cheche’ Ochieng’ is also very much in Firat’s thinking. Kakamega Homeboyz’s Robinson Kamura has also been called up.

Central midfielders

Firat has stressed on a need to build relationships between his players, and no position on the pitch epitomises this more than his preferred first-choice double pivot of Richard Odada and Anthony Teddy Akumu.

Odada is proving why Victor Wanyama is not missed with his ability to dictate the tempo of a match on the ball as well as his presence without it. He also has an eye for a good pass. 

Teddy rarely plays for his club Sagan Tosu, but his experience having played for Gor Mahia, Zesco and Kaizer Chiefs has earned the trust of Firat.

In the six games, Firat has called up Gor Mahia’s Alpha Onyango, as well as Kenya Police’s Charles Ouma

It will be interesting to see if Kenya can manage to entice Tyler Onyango of Everton to switch allegiance to Harambee Stars as well. Karioangi Sharks’ Stanley Wilson was also invited to train with the squad in September

Attacking midfielders

This is one of three positions where a solution has not really been found. Firat has been using Kenneth Muguna as his first choice option, but the Kenya Police midfielder is more or less of a number eight. Receiving the ball between the lines is not really his game. Sindiga Big Stars’ Duke Abuya has also been tested.

Firat has also called up Gor Mahia’s Austin Odhiambo, but the midfielder lacked a passport, which rendered him ineligible for selection in September.

The Turkish head coach should also consider looking at Kenya Police’s Tyson Otieno, as he can make things happen out of nothing in the No.10 his preference for the  4-2-3-1 set up.


Two more positions where the country is yet to find solutions. Firat decried a lack of players with flair in the country, particularly one-vs-one specialists. He has had to use right-backs as wingers in Sakari and Onyango, or in other cases, strikers as wingers.

He insists on playing Masoud Juma - a striker by trade - as a winger because he can take men and Elvis Rupia in that position, and in the latter’s case, he did not turn out to be Neymar.

He has called up Kenya Police’s Alvin Mang’eni, Gor’s Boniface Omondi as well as Clifton Miheso and Hassan Abdallah.

The lack of enough options is so dire, he even called up Ovella Ochieng’, a free agent who has struggled to make any progress since making his debut in 2016 at just 17 years. Ayub Timbe has also been called up, but a lack of reliability is underpinned by his tendency to suffer numerous injuries.

IF Elfsborg’s Timothy ‘Babu’ Ouma was also called up in September and won his third cap against South Sudan, but he can also play as a number 10. 

Tusker’s Joseph Mwangi is also in contention, as well as AFC Leopards’ pair of Victor Omune and Hassan Beja.  Kakamega Homeboyz Moses Mudavadi could also be considered, as well as Belgian-born Wilkins Ochieng’.

It might be worth considering making overtures to FC Koln’s Linton Maina, who could help solve a big problem on the flanks. FC Elche's Garvin Gachangi may also earn future call-ups.


Upfront, there has been a lot of heated debate as captain Michael Olunga has polarised opinion after a couple of outings where he has missed sitters.

Olunga has now missed four one-on-one situations in the last three friendly matches, which has added a lot of pressure on the Al Duhail striker.

Many fans, pundits, journalists and even former players, including Dennis Oliech, have called for Gor Mahia’s Benson Omala to be given more chances, although he was called up and even earned his first cap against Mauritius in June.

He has missed the last two squads, but the door is still open for him to return. Firat is clearly a fan of Kakamega Homeboyz’s Moses Shummah, and has also given call ups to Alfred Scrivren and Rupia, although the latter is yet to be tested as a striker.