Michael Olunga missing as Engin Firat names Harambee Stars squad for upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers

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Michael Olunga missing as Engin Firat names Harambee Stars squad for upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers

Festus Chuma 14:00 - 20.05.2024

Michael Olunga is unexpectedly left out of Harambee Stars' squad for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Burundi and Ivory Coast.

Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga has not been included in Engin Firat's provisional squad for the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Burundi and Ivory Coast.

 The announcement came on Monday from head coach Engin Firat, who has otherwise retained a core group from the team's recent triumph at the four-nation tournament in Malawi.

Olunga has been a centerpiece of the national team's strategy in past tournaments. 

His absence raises questions about the team's offensive plans against formidable opponents like Ivory Coast, the reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions.

The coach's list includes 25 players, with a blend of experienced internationals and emerging talents. 

Notably, Brian Okoth from Kenya Police has received his first call-up, recognized for his outstanding performances in the local league.

Also making the list are Austine Odhiambo from Gor Mahia, who leads the FKF Premier League in assists, and Adam Wilson from Bradford City in England, who earns his first national team nod.

Among the returnees are Duke Abuya and Elvis Rupia, who missed the last four-nation tournament but have shown form in their respective clubs. 

The inclusion of Tobias Knost from SV Verl in Germany and Bruce Kamau from Perth Glory in Australia adds international experience to the squad.

The team is set to begin preparations in Nairobi starting Tuesday, May 21, 2024, with their first match against Burundi scheduled for June 7, followed by a clash with Ivory Coast on June 11. 

Both matches will take place at the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, Malawi, due to the unavailability of suitable venues in Kenya.

Nick Mwendwa, President of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF), expressed disappointment at not being able to host the matches in Kenya but remains hopeful about fan support.

 "Every team always wishes to play their home matches at home. This is something I would not have wanted. Nonetheless, I am appealing to Kenyans to remain positive and support the team," Mwendwa stated.

The venue shift to Malawi is due to ongoing renovations at Nyayo National Stadium and Kasarani Stadium in preparation for the 2024 African Nations Championships and the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations.

In the World Cup qualification race, Kenya currently stands third in Group F after the initial two fixtures.

 The group is topped by Ivory Coast, followed by Gabon, Burundi, The Gambia, and Seychelles. Only the top team directly qualifies for the World Cup, with four of the best second-placed teams across nine groups getting another chance through a playoff.

Harambee Stars squad:

Goalkeepers; Patrick Matasi (Kenya Police), Byrne Odhiambo (Bandari), Boniphas Munyasa (Muranga Seal), Ian Otieno (Zesco, Zambia)

Defenders: Johnstone Omurwa (Estrela, Portugal), Alphonse Omija (Dhofar-Oman), Amos Nondi (Ararat, Armenia), Brian Okoth (Kenya Police), Abud Omar (Kenya Police), Tobias Knost (SV Verl, Germany)

Midfielders: John Ochieng (Zanaco, Zambia), Eric Johanna (UTA, Romania), Adam Wilson (Bradford City, England), Anthony Akumu (Unattached), Kenneth Muguna (Kenya Police), Kaycie Odhiambo (AFC Leopards), Chrispine Erambo (Tusker), Rooney Onyango (Gor Mahia), Ayub Timbe (Sabail, Azeberijan), Duke Abuya (IHEFU, Tanzania), Bruce Kamau (Perth Glory, Australia)

Forwards: John Avire (El Sekka El Hadid SC, Egypt), Austine Odhiambo (Gor Mahia), Benson Omala (Gor Mahia), Elvis Rupia (IHEFU, Tanzania)

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